After a long trip to camp from the airport, a young camper got out of the van, threw his head back, spread his arms, and said, “Ahh, I’m home.” John Willson, executive director for SOAR, which operates summer camps for children with ADHD in Balsam, North Carolina; Dubois, Wyoming; and internationally, likes to tell this story to drive home the fact that kids should feel excited about attending summer camp, as if it were a second home.
“You want camp to be like that for kids,” he says. “That’s what parents are looking for — a safe place where their kids learn, grow, and do fun things that will help them when they go back home and start the school year.”
Summer camps for kids with ADHD and LD come in every size and shape — from day camps to short- and long-term stay-away camps. There are also adventure and travel camps, each offering its own special experiences. Determining which camp best suits your child’s needs is challenging. A child’s age and level of independence are key considerations, as well as how well he reacts to the stress of being away from home. Some campers are ready, “thirsty for the opportunity,” as Willson describes it. “Or maybe they’re not ready, but they definitely need the opportunity.”
I talked with Willson and two other directors of summer camp programs to find out what parents should look for in a camp for kids diagnosed with ADHD.
The Application Process
Parents don’t have to go it alone in deciding what experience will be best for their camper. The application process should guide them toward the perfect fit. A camp that specializes in ADHD should have an extensive application. Gene Bell, executive director at Summit Camp and Travel Programs, in Honesdale, Pennsylvania, explains his camp’s process.
“There’s a lengthy questionnaire that we ask the family to complete, as well as a questionnaire that we ask the potential camper’s teacher to complete,” says Bell. “If your youngster has been involved in any kind of therapeutic relationship with a psychologist or social worker or social skills group, we ask for an evaluation from that professional or professionals. If there’s been a recent psychological or neuropsych evaluation, we request a copy of that as well. We use all that, plus our conversation with the family, to determine if we would be a good match.”
Trevor Dunlap, executive director of Camp Nuhop, in Perrysville, Ohio, explains why a thorough application process is important. “We want to know as much as possible about each child, so that we build a program that fits his needs,” says Dunlap. “We want to put a child with kids he’ll have a good experience with, so they can build good, solid friendships. Many parents hope that a camp will do that, among other things.”