Summer is something that school-aged children look forward to for months, but for students with behavioral and intellectual disabilities, it can pose unique challenges. Each child is different in the way they’ll react to an extended break from school. Some may struggle to adjust to new routines. Others may regress without access to resources typically available in school, including possible setbacks in social skills. However, opportunities for students who need additional support during the summer break are available. From extended school year services to summer camps, students with disabilities can receive the assistance they need. Here are four summer programs for children with special needs.

Extended School Year

Some students with special needs can qualify for an Extended School Year (ESY) program. Typically offered as a half-day course that is classroom and/or community-based, these programs support students by providing academic structure and social exposure over summer break. ESY services are part of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and ensure students who might not retain their academic progress throughout the summer months are provided with continuing instruction. Families should consult their Individualized Educational Program (IEP) team at their student’s school to discuss the availability of ESY services.

Summer School

Students who don’t qualify for ESY services could find support in a summer school program. This might be a great option for students who primarily struggle with academics and can also provide the structure of a classroom that a student with disabilities might desire. These courses will help students retain or improve their skills, rather than losing them over the long months of summer. Since summer school is part of the general education curriculum, each school district has their own policies and options, so a discussion with the IEP team, and possibly administration, would be needed.

Summer Camps

Today, there are opportunities for students with special needs to experience those good old days of summer camp in a safe environment. Different camps are available based on student needs, such as PALS for youth and adults with Down syndrome. Some camps even offer individualized attention and specialized medical professionals in order to provide a secure environment for all attendees.

In addition to camps for individuals with disabilities, there are also camps that provide an inclusive, supportive environment for all members of the family. These camps not only provide activities and engagement for those with special needs, but also provide support groups for moms, dads, and siblings to discuss challenges, and build a network of shared experiences.

Social Skills Groups

Social skill development can be critical for individuals with behavioral and intellectual disabilities. Social skills groups provide an environment for students with special needs to practice their life skills with peers in their own age group. These supervised therapeutic sessions engage students in social situations and play, in order to develop skills, promote friendships, and increase positive interaction.


Pathways is one of the largest national providers of accessible, outcome-based behavioral and mental health services. Pathways of Pennsylvania has been serving communities in Pennsylvania since 1981, and is comprised of four companies: Children’s Behavioral Health, Inc., Pathways Community Services, LLC, Raystown Developmental Services, Inc., and The ReDCo Group, Inc. We believe every individual has a right to lead a meaningful and positive life, and we are changing lives, one day at a time.