The ADHD Camp for the Entire Family
Ned Hallowell’s uniquely designed ADHD summer camp enrolls children, parents, and siblings in a week-long program of learning, bonding, and feeling understood.
Hallowell Summer Adventures, an ADHD camp launched by psychiatrist Ned Hallowell and educator Rob Himburg, is hard to define. Part support group, part lecture series, part traditional summer camp, the week-long program really stands apart from other “ADHD camps,” Hallowell says, because of is its attendees: Children with ADHD attend with their parents (and siblings), too. Adults and kids alike learn new skills, connect with other campers, and — ideally, Hallowell hopes — gain a new perspective on living with ADHD or raising a child with the condition. “It’s a unique experience,” he adds. “There’s no other camp like it.”
Now in its 14th year, the camp — located on the shores of Lake Michigan — uses a multifaceted approach to simultaneously build kids’ executive functioning and teach parents new ways of understanding and supporting their children. Each morning, parents attend discussions led by Hallowell or his wife, Sue, a social worker and couple’s therapist. Topics range from a scientific history of ADHD, to mindful parenting, to the pros and cons of various treatments. The kids, meanwhile, spend their mornings with Himburg, embarking on “learning adventures” — including kayak trips and visits to an organic farm — designed to build executive functioning and self-efficacy. Families reunite in the afternoons to relax and socialize.
“This isn’t an ADHD bootcamp,” Sue Hallowell says — meaning kids likely won’t leave with concrete organizational strategies or suddenly be able to breeze through homework. “But they learn to think out of the box and explore the different ways that people with ADD find their way in the world.” Older kids are encouraged to mentor younger ones, and returning campers are given additional leadership opportunities. “They feel good about themselves, which is such a hard thing for these kids,” Sue adds. “We try to teach skills in fun ways that don’t feel like learning, but they are.”
Jennifer Healy, who first attended in 2017 with her 11-year-old son, says being separated from her each morning was initially a source of stress for Braeden, who deals with comorbid anxiety and some social challenges. “The first night, he became very anxious when he learned he’d be with kids he’d never met before,” Healy says. But he made a friend that evening, and they were inseparable for the program’s duration. “Camp was the first time Braeden really found himself in a cohort of kids like him,” she says. That sense of camaraderie strengthened his self-awareness and increased his confidence — something he’d long struggled with, particularly in comparison to his neurotypical twin brother. He eagerly returned to camp, brother in tow, the following summer.
Hallowell’s morning lectures are free-form, and he encourages participants to share their own experiences with the group. Heather Bragg, who attended last year with her stepson, Alec, says that for her, these discussions were the most valuable takeaway. “You’re in a room full of parents who have had similar struggles,” she says. “In my day-to-day life, I feel like the only one. Being at camp, I was finally around people who know what it’s like” to raise a child with ADHD. The tips other parents gave her have helped 18-year-old Alec and his 8-year-old step-brother, Aaron, both of whom hope to attend camp this year.
All the children, who range from 8 to 18, do most of their activities together. Bragg believes that as an older camper, Alec benefited most from the chance to be a mentor. “He really upped his game and became a leader,” she says. “I think he remembered what it was like to be the kiddo who was wild, talkative, and scattered. Here, he could be a good role model. Camp was a great reminder for him of how far he’s come.”
(This year, Hallowell Summer Adventures will run from July 14 to July 19, 2019. For more information, visit hallowellsummercamp.com)