The Best Camps for ADHD Children

Strategies for finding the best summer programs for children with ADHD and learning disabilities.

Strategies to pick the best camp for a child with attention deficit disorder (ADHD ADD) or a learning disability like dyslexia.

A summer camp should focus on what the child does well, and help him succeed at it.

John Willson of SOAR
   
 

ADD Camp Checklist

How can you be sure your ADHD child is ready for overnight camp? Here are some tips from the experts:

  • Make sure your child’s medication is properly titrated. A stay at camp isn’t the time to be adjusting medication or trying new behavioral plans.
  • If your child moves easily into different activities—birthday parties, outings to the park—he’ll most likely adapt to camp.
  • Be honest about how your child manages challenging or frustrating situations. Is aggression a problem?
  • If his overnight visits to grandma’s or a friend’s house usually bring a late-night phone call home, he may not be ready for camp.
  • Age is not always a factor in how he will handle camp. A seven-year-old may be ready, while a 12-year-old might not be.
  • Ask the camp director if children like yours have had successful experiences.
  • Above all, trust your gut.
 
   

For most parents, summer camp conjures up thoughts of sun-filled days in the fresh air, doing crafts, singing songs, and making new friends.

But, for parents of children with attention deficit disorder (ADD ADHD), there are also a host of concerns. Will their child fit in? Will he make friends? Who will monitor his medication? What will happen if he needs to be disciplined? Can he handle being away from home? Will he lose the academic gains made during the year?

Bonnie Kayne never thought her son, Charlie, 13, would attend summer camp. “Charlie has ADHD and has a hard time making and keeping friends,” she says. “Early on, he was labeled the bad boy, and the reputation stuck, well into middle school.”

Kayne says that Charlie eagerly approached her about attending an ADHD camp, after he met a friend at school who had attended the year before. “Charlie has been going to camp since he was 10,” she says. “He can be himself at camp, without fear of being labeled or teased by the other kids.” Kayne says that the benefits carried over into the school year. “Charlie has more confidence and is able to compromise more easily, two things that were very difficult for him.”

These days, parents have many ADD camps to choose from—how do you select the best one for your child? We spoke to ADD camp directors and parents, and found that, although camp programs are different, the best ones share most of the following characteristics.

  • A strength-based program. “A summer camp should focus on what the child does well, and help him succeed at it,” says John Willson, of SOAR, which runs camps in North Carolina, Florida, Wyoming, and California. “Our students often experience a high level of perceived failures—at school, on the playground, at home. It is crucial for them to succeed when they go to camp.”


This article comes from the Spring 2008 issue of ADDitude.

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