Promoting Growth at Summer Camp

3 summer programs that offer fun, friends and learning to children with ADD and learning disabilities.

Summer Camp, Part 2

By the end of the session, this teen, who had balked at the idea of going to "some geeky camp," had developed a sense of himself as someone who cared about school. He was even given the Headmaster's Award. "His getting the award was incredibly moving," his father says. "It changed his life."

In addition to boosting academic skills, summer ADD programs can open doors that might have remained forever closed. Karin Sweeney, of Queens, New York, says her 11-year-old grew up hating sports. But at New York University's Summer Program for Kids, he finally grasped the "rules of the game." Now, Sweeney says, he enjoys sports at school - for the first time in his life.

Summer treatment programs

STPs are geared to children, ages five to 14, who have recurring problems at school. According to Karen Fleiss, Ph.D., co-director of NYU's Summer Program for Kids, such children "have trouble with their behavior, are impulsive and negative-attention-seeking, have low self-esteem, and can't function in a group setting."

A typical program lasts for six or eight weeks, with activities from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. In addition to academics, most programs offer athletics (swimming, softball, basketball, soccer), as well as art and computer instruction.

STPs have been called "behavior-modification boot camps," and that's an apt characterization. Upon enrollment, goals are identified for each child, and an individual treatment plan is developed. Progress toward those goals is carefully monitored, with daily report cards and point systems that provide each child with continual feedback.

"We record all the data," says Fleiss. "Everything is tracked, so we see over time how the children are faring." Each Friday, children who have met their point quotas for the week are allowed to go on a field trip.

So much structure might seem oppressive, but parents, directors, and children often say it's not. "Children love the structure and the routine," says Mary McIntosh, director of the Achievement Center, an STP in Erie, Pennsylvania. "These are the rules for the classroom, for friendship, for life. Kids feel safer knowing them."

STPs do all they can to ensure that the children don't feel they are "working" or attending summer school, according to Fleiss. "If everyone is having fun," she says, "then we can do what we need to do without the child knowing that he's receiving treatment."

Kids aren't the only ones who learn from STPs. Parents are usually required to come in for special classes, in which they learn strategies to help their children at home.

"We talked about everything from problem-solving to tantrums to household routines," says Lara Morrison, of Chappaqua, New York, who attended parent-education classes last summer as part of her son's STP. "Rethinking your ways of doing things may seem too much to some. But when a child has ADD, that extra structure may help your home operate like everybody else's."

In many cases, the therapeutic process extends into the following academic year, with counselors from the STP meeting with the child's new teacher. The goal is to help teachers set up systems, including a daily report card, and to show them how giving effective commands and ignoring certain inappropriate behaviors can help ADD students stay in control.

"We can take that accumulated data and go into the school and say, 'Here's what works well with this child,'" says Lopez-Williams.

This article comes from the February/March 2006 issue of ADDitude.

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TAGS: Summer for ADHD Kids, Camp for ADHD Kids

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