“Thanks, but we don’t do playdates with other deaf kids.”
These very painful words believe it or not came from a mother who, like me, was raising a baby with profound hearing loss. She explained that she didn’t want her child to be held back by other children who couldn’t hear.
Thankfully, we also had Ketty Baalla in our lives. Ketty has been Sonya’s Early Intervention Service Coordinator for almost three years. More than that, she has been a friend who has personal experience raising a child with hearing loss. This past fall, I asked her about summer activities she would recommend for Sonya. Her response?: CampedUp, a day camp for children with hearing loss.
“But shouldn’t we focus on programs with hearing children?” I asked. My fear that this mom was right had made its way in.
Ketty and I spoke on the topic for an hour. Her experience with CampedUp was not limited to her work as a service coordinator for kids with hearing loss. Her own daughter had attended the camp and it had been life changing for them both. “After CampedUp, my daughter had great interest in her devices,” Ketty told me. “At audiologist appointments, it was my daughter – not me – who asked the majority of the questions. She gained a confidence and interest in her devices she didn’t have before. She had taken ownership of her hearing loss!”
I signed Sonya up that afternoon.
For two weeks, Sonya has attended the camp. I can’t say enough positive things about it. Created and operated by Hearing Loss Specialists, CampedUp provides a unique community in which children like Sonya can socialize with other hearing aid and cochlear implant users of different ages, gain self advocacy skills and above all have a wonderful time.
“We recognized the need for kids to have an opportunity to form relationships with other children with hearing loss, outside of a therapy setting,” says Dana Selznick, co-Founder of CampedUp and a Hearing Education Specialist. “We wanted to create an environment where campers can play, create and build a community among their peers starting at a young age. Brittany Prell [CampedUp’s other Co-Founder and Hearing Education Specialist] and I grew up going to camp and our experience helped shape who we are today. We wanted our camp to have the same impact on their lives as it did ours.”
So far, Sonya has enjoyed projects such as marble painting, creating a color changing chameleon, meeting a “real life” princess and a super hero, decorating paper fans with bubble art and making homemade bouncy balls. The highlight was a reptile show!
While Sonya attends half days, the camp goes from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. each day. Kids enjoy a morning snack and an afternoon “fun with foods” activity (yesterday they churned butter!). A hot meal is provided during lunchtime. Each afternoon kids play water games on the roof of Stephen Wise synagogue and this week (among other activities) will meet children’s book author (and speech pathologist) Fara Augustover, author of Harmony Hears a Hoot, a story about Harmony an owl who has hearing loss.
“As a hearing education service provider during the year, I typically see these campers in a mainstream school setting. It’s great to connect with the campers outside of an academic environment and to see them build friendships with other kids wearing cochlear implants and hearing aids. I love to see that ‘aha’ moment, when they realize that there are other people just like them.” – Brandi Prell, CampedUp counselor.
One of the most valuable lessons CampedUp teaches to its campers is self-advocacy. These skills are interwoven into the activities campers do all day long. “We foster conversations among our older kids about their hearing loss and talk about how they describe their hearing loss to their hearing friends,” explains Dana. “Campers share what they like about their listening devices as well as challenges that they may have experienced, so that the campers can help each other problem solve solutions.”
For CampedUp’s younger kids: “We read stories about characters who, like them, have hearing loss. We also encourage campers to include their listening devices in their art work. Throughout the entire camp day, campers are encouraged to identify when they need a word repeated. We help them figure out how to find the best seats for their listening needs. Campers also learn to take care of their equipment during sprinkler time when we are taking off and switching devices,” she says.
As I put Sonya to bed the other night, she asked me, “Mom, do we have camp tomorrow?”
“Yes,” I responded.
“Okay, good.” she smiled sweetly, “I love to go there.”
Pretty sure I made the right decision here 🙂