Day camps that make the magic of summer accessible to all children

Lethbridge-Layton-Mackay staff member) helping a camper during a science activity at the 2018 developmental coordination disorder camp at the Mackay site
Lethbridge-Layton-Mackay staff member) helping a camper during a science activity at the 2018 developmental coordination disorder camp at the Mackay site

Summer provides children a well-deserved break from school, with more time spent at home or at a day camp having fun. However, for a child with a physical impairment many camps are not adapted to their needs, or they must continue their therapy throughout the summer. To help these children enjoy their summer to the fullest, while achieving their therapy goals, the Lethbridge-Layton-Mackay Rehabilitation Centre offers two intensive summer therapeutic camps at its Mackay site: the Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD) Camp, and the Constraint Induced Movement Therapy (CIMT) camp. The Centre has also partnered with Camp Massawippi since its beginnings in 1951. For the past several years, the Lethbridge-Layton-Mackay Rehabilitation Centre has partnered with Camp Massawippi to hold its day camp at the Mackay site.

The DCD Camp’s format is two week-long sessions, one for children ages 5 to 7 and the other for children 8 to 11 years. Joelle Poirier, Clinical Coordinator for the 8-21 years old program at Lethbridge-Layton-Mackay’s Mackay site, says that the DCD Camp fosters a supportive setting. “Due to their coordination and motor difficulties, children with developmental coordination disorder are often teased at school, participate in less activities, have fewer friends and lack self-confidence. Everyday tasks such as changing into a bathing suit, organizing their school bags, or throwing a ball are often major challenges for them.” The DCD Camp is run by a multidisciplinary team including occupational therapists, specialized educators, physiotherapists, and volunteers. Many activities are also animated by community partner organizations. The children are exposed to a variety of activities such as fencing, judo, arts and crafts, swimming, science experiments, and cooking.

The therapists focus on specific goals chosen by each child, while providing an opportunity for socialization and fun. The therapists use the CO-OP (Cognitive Orientation to daily Occupational Performance) approach, where they guide the children to discover their own strategies to reach a desired goal. “By using CO-OP, children are able to reach their goals including learning to ride a bike without training wheels, using utensils to cut and eat food, drawing a unicorn, and playing a game with other children,” says Ms. Poirier.

At the end of the week, parents are invited to a special presentation showcasing activities their children participated in and the individual goals they worked on. The feedback from parents has been very positive. Some have noticed that their child is more active and less messy at home. One parent said her son loved it, and hoped that in the future it would continue for multiple weeks.  

The Constraint Induced Movement Therapy camp takes place over three weeks for children with a diagnosis of cerebral palsy or hemiplegia that has affected the use of a limb. The camp’s objective is to help children improve the spontaneous use of the affected arm in daily activities, through the use of constraints on the unaffected arm while engaging in repetitive and intensive practicing of gross and fine motor tasks. At the end of every day, they practice goals that target activities of daily living where two hands are required.

Marie-Hélène Bosisio, Occupational Therapist in the 0-7 years old Program, says that one of the impacts the camp has on participants is helping them better understand their condition. “Children feel they have a safe place to try new challenges and persevere. For some this has transferred into their home environment, where they continue to challenge themselves to improve the use of their hand on a daily basis – even months after the camp ends.”