Summer camp isn't all about outdoor activities and having fun. The most important part of camp for kids with ADHD can be building self-esteem and finding a social network that feels right. ADDitude talked with several parents who hoped — and found — that summer camp would do wonders for their kids. If you’re considering camp for your child this summer, you will find these three stories encouraging and inspiring.
COMING OF AGE AT CAMP
Most families think of summer camp as something for teens and tweens, but Club Kodiak is for young adults over the age of 18. Jacqueline Ford's son, Thomas, graduated from Camp Kodiak to Club Kodiak when he turned 18, five years ago.
Thomas has learning disabilities and has been diagnosed with autism and ADHD. Many years ago, his educational psychiatrist suggested that getting away from home would help him.
"It took us years to convince Thomas to go to Camp Kodiak and overcome his anxiety about staying away from home," says Ford. "We finally told him we thought this was an important part of growing up."
When the Fords arrived at camp, they were elated. The camp has a ritual in which the kids who have arrived line up and applaud the incoming arrivals. "The first year, he was put off by the first day crowd...but the next year, he wanted to arrive at camp like a rock star in a stretch limo," says Ford. "Of course, we drew the line at that!"
At 23, Thomas is now in vocational training and is living in a residence away from home. But he's not finished with Club Kodiak. He treasures the friends he's made there, and his confidence increases every summer that he goes back. Thomas expects to attend Club Kodiak for several more summers.
"At Club Kodiak, Thomas had the opportunity to try activities that he wouldn't be able to try at camps near home, because they couldn't accommodate his disabilities," says Ford. "They sail, do archery, learn to ride, drive go-carts, and climb rocks. When he was at Camp Kodiak, they worked on academics, which helped him do well in school. The older kids focus on life skills — healthy eating, putting together a résumé — things that improve independent living."
When asked what she thought Thomas' favorite thing about camp was, Jacqueline says, "It's the friendships, which are long-term and important to him."
HOME AWAY FROM HOME
Jake Federico, 12, loved the idea of being at camp, but he didn't enjoy or benefit from mainstream programs. He had trouble with social interactions, and ADHD made it hard for him to pay attention and sit still. His parents didn't know what to expect when Jake first went to Summit Camp, in Pennsylvania — a sleep-away camp for kids with attention challenges — at age eight. That first summer Jake signed up for three weeks of camp, but enjoyed it so much that he called home and asked to stay for seven weeks.
"At a regular day camp, you choose an activity and go to it alone," Stacy says. "At Summit, they do things as a group, and move from activity to activity together. If another kid gets on your nerves, Summit counselors make sure that the kids develop ways to deal with it."
Jake has learned to express frustration in a positive way, especially when playing games or sports. Losing used to send Jake into a tailspin for hours. Now he takes it all in stride. He feels connected and safe, and the counselors stay on from year to year, so they know him.
Summit has encouraged Jake to take chances and try new things. At home, he had refused to ride a bike or to try out for a school play, but wound up doing both at Summit. In fact, after acting in a play at Summit, Jake felt confident enough to try out for his school play — and became one of the youngest actors to get a lead.
Jake has taken on new responsibilities at Summit. Last summer he got to hang out with the middle-school campers because he was such a good role model. That kind of recognition means a lot to Jake and his parents. "They've taken a child who may not have been able to live on his own and turned him into an independent and self-sufficient young man."
ON THE RIGHT TRACK--FINALLY
Scott, now 17, was smart, but he got so distracted in class that he missed important parts of his lessons. Of course, his grades were terrible. "His mother and I felt he needed more structure," says Scott's father, Karl. "We started looking for a school that would provide more structure and a better environment for him."
Though he was frustrated in school, Scott was reluctant to leave his circle of friends there. Convinced that doing well in high school was important for Scott's future, his parents sent him to Grand River Academy for the summer session, to polish his academic skills. If he did well, he would do his last year of high school there.
At first, Scott felt he was being punished. But soon he started making friends and thriving under the personal attention and the curriculum at Grand River Academy. The teachers took the time to get involved with his learning and set up a reward system that he responded to.
"His summer class consisted of only two kids, and his teachers took him to do many things after school," says Karl. "If he did well, he got to play paintball or other fun activities. When he didn't do well, he got to do things that were less fun — like cleaning up after the horses."
Grand River has changed Scott. "He's gained confidence and started looking outside of himself. Recently, he thought up a project for which he bought old bikes from Goodwill, fixed them up, and gave them to shelters. He interacts with his family and community more now."
Scott is happily enrolled at Grand River Academy for his senior year in high school. He is one of the most popular kids in his dorm. His parents are proud. "It's not cheap," says his dad, "but it's worth every penny to see your child grow confident. Grand River gets struggling kids back onto the right track."
This article appears in the Spring issue of ADDitude.
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Did summer camp help your child? Share experiences on the Parents of ADHD Children support group on ADDConnect