Benefits of a Residential Camping Experience for Youth with Limb Loss/Difference

Derrick Stowell, MS, CTRS


When you think of summer and look back at your childhood, what comes to mind? Playing a pickup game of baseball with the kids down the street, not having to wake up before the sun comes up to go to school, taking a swim at your local water hole, and most important of all SUMMER CAMP! Most of us could not wait to get away from mom and dad for a week. Making new friends and trying new activities was the highlight of camp. For most physical activity at camp comes naturally. However, for individuals with physical disabilities it is often a different story. Although recreational opportunities for individuals with physical disabilities have greatly improved over the years, barriers still exist for some. Many programs are even getting better at adapting activities and being inclusive for individuals with and without disabilities.

Inclusion of all participants offers many benefits. However, it is equally important for an individual who has experienced limb loss or limb difference to have peers that have had similar experiences. There are several camping programs throughout the country that offer opportunities for young amputees to meet others like them, and develop and improve social and physical skills. Little quantitative research has been completed on camps specifically designed for youths with disabilities. Even less research has been completed on camps specifically designed for the youth amputee population.

Despite the lack of specific research for camper for children with disabilities, there is a growing body of knowledge of the impact of camp on youth in general. The American Camping Association is one of the leading researchers on the outcomes of camping. In a 2005 study the American Camp Association found that summer camps provides several benefits for children who attended camp programs. These benefits included increased confidence and self-esteem, development or improvement of appropriate social skills and increased willingness to try new things (Directions, 2005). In another research study, the National Camp Evaluation Project evaluated the effectiveness of summer residential camping program for youth and young adults with disabilities. This research found that campers experienced significant growth in self-esteem, social interactions, and communication (Brannan, Arick, Fullerton, 1998).

Despite the lack of specific research on camps for youths with limb loss, the overall camping industry has provided valuable results that do highlight some of the major impacts of camping programs for all youth. The annual Amputee Coalition of America Youth Camp is one of the largest camping programs for young amputees. The camp has evolved over the years from a satellite program of the Amputee Coalition of America's Annual Conference into a completely separate program designed to provide a residential camping experience for youth with limb loss and limb difference. The overall program design utilizes many different techniques and models to provide an overall positive and effective experience for campers.

One of the main models that has been incorporated into the program is the Leisure Ability Model of Therapeutic Recreation. This model aims to take individuals from the rehabilitation stage of their recovery to full recreation participation (Stumbo, Petterson, 2004). The program is intended to provide opportunities for campers to increase their self-esteem, develop positive social interaction, improve their nutrition and foster peer interaction. It is also important for campers to take the skills and activities they learned at camp and continue to pursue active and healthy lifestyles once they return home. Evaluation is an important aspect of the program. Over the years, campers have reported an increase in their self esteem, knowledge of proper nutrition, willingness to help other children with limb loss, and increased participation in physical activity once returning home.

The 2008 Amputee Coalition of America Youth Camp will be held at Joy Outdoor Recreation Center in Clarksville, Ohio, July 20-24. There is a fee for camp, but fee waivers are available for families. Campers are flown from their home city to Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, where they are met by camp staff and taken via charter bus to the camp. Applications will be available online in December. For more information or to request a camp application, contact Derrick Stowell, MS, CTRS, Youth Activities Program Coordinator at 888/267-5669, ext. 8130, or yapinfo@amputee-coalition.org. You can also visit www.amputee-coalition.org/youth_camp.html

References:
American Camp Association. Directions: Youth Development Outcomes of the Camp Experience. 2005
Brannan, Steve; Arick, Joel; & Fullerton, Ann. Research Brief # 2 "The Impact of Residential Camp Programs on Campers with Disabilities." National Camp Evaluation Project (NCEP): 1993-96. March 9, 1998
Stumbo, Norma J.; and Petterson, Carol. Therapeutic Recreation Program Design. Pearson, San Fransisco, 2004