"Finding a camp when you have a special needs child is really challenging," Annie Whitney told me.
The Durham mother of 12-year-old Jonah used to begin months before the summer, looking for the right fit for her son. He was diagnosed with a rare genetic mutation that has no name, but shares some of the properties of diagnoses along the autism spectrum. He has intellectual disabilities, a speech delay, problems with fine motor skills, a narrow focus and seeks constant sensory stimulation.
Annie and her husband both work, and they needed to know their son was not only safe, but engaged, "not warehoused," she told me. They also wanted a place where their typically developing child, Sadie, could also attend.
They found the perfect summer camp for their children about four years ago at the Levin Jewish Community Center in Durham. Not only was the staff welcoming and nurturing to Jonah, but, due to support from the National Inclusion Project, they were able to offer him special attention to help him fully integrate into the program. He's even learned how to swim, something Annie desperately wished for.
"I know that Jonah has someone with him, monitoring him, helping him engage in the activity," Annie said. "He's really being taken care of. They really understand his needs."
There are more than 3 million school-age children living in the United States with disabilities. The goal of the National Inclusion Project is to help these children participate in recreational programs in their communities alongside typically developing children.
This not only enhances their lives, but also the lives of the other children, as well. They do this by offering training, consulting and funding to community groups to help them make accommodations for all children so that everyone can participate. Currently, the project operates in 35 states, including North Carolina, and supports 15,000 children each year.
Annie reflected on how Jonah's presence has informed Sadie's life and the lives of other typically developing children he interacts with at camp: "The more other children interact with people who are not the same as them, the better off everyone is," she said. "They are less likely to tease, bully and less likely to look as these children as strange."
Isn't that what every parent wants? For our children to be safe, happy and accepted?
Because of this very important mission, I have agreed to delve way beyond my comfort zone into uncharted waters. I will be participating in "Dancing Like the Stars" at the Southern Women's Show on April 22 to raise money for this important cause.
The voting is already open, so you can vote for me now and help me raise money for these children who deserve our help, even if it means me totally embarrassing myself...actually, that might be pretty fun to watch!
Thanks in advance for your consideration.
Amanda is the mom of two, a reporter for WRAL-TV and the author of several books including some on motherhood. Find her here on Mondays.