Angie's LIST Guide to
Therapy and Respite Camps

Therapy and respite camps provide the opportunity for individuals with developmental disabilities or health conditions to participate in a variety of activities in a camp-like setting while their caregivers can rest.


two young girls using wheelchairs on path
Most therapy and respite camps include full medical services while also providing therapeutic activities for participants. (Photo ©iStock)

Therapy camp participants

Therapy and respite camp programs provide a safe, supportive environment for individuals with special needs. Campers may be dealing with disabilities or medical conditions that can include cerebral palsy, eating disorders, learning disabilities, muscular dystrophy, speech impairments and cognitive disabilities. Sessions can run from a few days to a week or longer, and some facilities offer sessions continually throughout the year. Some camps provide programs for individuals of all ages. 

Caregivers who provide continual, ongoing support to a special needs child or adult can benefit from a respite program that provides them with a short break from their duties and the opportunity to rest and revitalize themselves. During this time, the individual with special needs is actively participating in a variety of camp activities designed to be therapeutic in nature. Most camp programs provide for all the necessary needs, including sleeping quarters, showers and three meals a day. Caregivers who stay at the respite camp are also provided with accommodations where they can take a short break from their duties and regain their energy.

Therapy camp activities and services

Most facilities include full medical services in addition to guidance and counseling services. Staff members are specially trained to help individuals suffering from developmental disabilities and are ready to provide assistance with daily tasks such as bathing, getting dressed and eating meals. Activities vary depending upon the individual therapy, respite program and the time of year. Some examples include hiking, swimming, dancing, canoeing, fishing, arts and crafts and games.

Most camp programs have staff members who can help special needs individuals with communication and speech disorders in addition to physical impairments. Therapists can work one-on-one with those individuals who may need a little extra attention to help them develop life skills and become more independent. While the parents and caregivers are resting up, their campers will be actively participating in a variety of engaging activities with others who may have similar disabilities or health conditions.

Choose a therapy camp

Before you bring your special needs child or adult to a therapy and respite program, you'll want to do a little homework to learn more about what services the camp offers. There is an abundance of services located throughout the United States, each providing a unique offering of programs for parents, caregivers and the special needs individual. Some camps are run by hospitals, treatment centers or other medical facilities, whereas many more operate independently as nonprofits. Accreditation is one factor that you should take into consideration when choosing a camp. 

If the camp you are considering is nearby, schedule a tour of the facility. Make arrangements to visit the camp and meet with staff members. Bring a list of any questions that you may have, especially those related to the condition of your special needs child or adult. Inquire about the training of staff members and volunteers. Ask for a detailed overview of all the services and accommodations that the therapy and respite camp offers. If your camper has a health condition that requires medication, ask whether the camp has medical staff on site.

It's helpful to learn about the experiences of others firsthand to help you make a more informed decision. Be sure to consult Angie's List for member reviews and ratings of others who have stayed at therapy and respite camps.


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