One Happy Camper: Summer Programs for Kids
No more teachers, no more books … no more structure? If you are seeking to make the most of summer break, consider a camp designed to help a child with ADHD learn social skills and problem-solving, as well as earn better self-esteem.
Mention “summer camp,” and a host of questions come to mind for parents of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) children: Will my son make friends? Will my daughter be able to build on what she learned during the school year? What if he acts up? Who will administer her medication? Virtually all camps specializing in children with ADHD and learning disabilities have these (and other) parental worries covered. Parents may still choose from a broad range of camps that differ in the activities they offer, their missions, and educational goals. One of the following five types of ADHD summer camps will be a good fit for your child.
Summer Camps for Friendship and Personal Growth
Social-skills camps are for children who want to be part of a peer group. Kids who attend feel marginalized during the school year or have difficulty making friends. Counselors are trained to encourage positive relationships among campers and to foster self-esteem. Although camps stress that they’re not merely recreational, there are many traditional camping activities, from rope courses to nature hikes, kayaking to rock climbing, all under the watchful eye of counselors. One camper wrote home from Summit Camp: “Dear Mom and Dad, You gave me something I never really had (except at home): friends! I am very thankful and grateful. I love you. Bonnie.”
Life Skills Summer Camps
Like personal-growth camps, activity-based camps incorporate team-building into their curricula. Campers usually live at a base camp, and have challenging outdoor adventures – white-water rafting on swift rivers instead of canoeing on calm lakes, horseback riding through mountain ranges instead of nature hikes in the woods. Camp is a short-term, high-impact experience that is especially popular with teens. Adventure camps’ high-octane programs promote good decision-making and build self-esteem. They help kids learn to plan and execute those plans, whether they are completing a project for school or keeping appointments with friends. Counselors at SOAR accompany campers while they do their laundry at a laundromat, and they help campers plan their meals and shop for supplies for a four-day hike.
Academic Support Camps
Some schools that specialize in learning disabilities run remediation and enrichment programs during the summer. Such classroom-based programs are good for children with dyslexia or other language-based learning disabilities, who may regress academically if given only a few hours of academics each week. Although these summer programs are not camps per se, the strong educational component is generally tempered with time spent outside the classroom. For example, at Landmark College’s High School Summer Session, students balance their 19 hours of class time a week with orienteering, tennis, or trips to local theaters and attractions.
Summer Treatment Programs
Developed more than 20 years ago, at the University at Buffalo, STPs cater specifically to the needs of ADHD children. Now offered at 10 sites across the country, these eight-week day camps give children, ages five through 14, and their parents intensive behavioral training that will help them throughout the next school year.
Behavior modification sessions are taught by developmental specialists in both individual and group settings. A part of each day is dedicated to age-appropriate games and activities that improve learning skills, academic performance, and self-esteem. STPs focus on the individual – children receive daily feedback, as well as a report at the end of the session, which describes interventions made during camp and recommendations for future treatment. According to one study, more than 95 percent of parents report a positive impact on their children, themselves, and their families.
Mom and Dad are key components of the program. As STP founder and professor of psychology and psychiatry at Florida International University, William Pelham, Ph.D., says, “When you teach a child with ADHD how to get along with others, you also have to teach parents to maximize the gains in a family setting and beyond.” During special evening sessions, parents are taught everything from how to handle problematic behavior to helping with homework.
Mainstream Summer Camps
Many families opt for traditional, mainstream camps. If your child makes friends easily and is comfortable in a less structured environment, a mainstream camp may help him feel like one of the gang. Children with ADHD make up 20 percent of enrollment at some mainstream camps, so managing medications is rarely a problem. And almost every camp of any kind these days has at least one full-time nurse on staff. If a child has a passion for, say, soccer or swimming or drama, use the summer to bolster these skills, along with a sense of competence and identity. There’s a mainstream camp to suit virtually every interest or hobby. An added benefit: Attending these camps eases the stigma of being taken out of class for special accommodations or making trips to the school nurse for meds during the school year.
How Do You Choose?
While no type of camp guarantees a happy camper, keep a few things in mind. First, get your child’s input when choosing a camp. “Children function best when doing something they like,” says Andrew Adesman, M.D., director of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at the Steven and Alexandra Cohen Children’s Medical Center of New York. “The other 10 months of the year, they are forced to go to school. Don’t make them spend the other two months doing uninteresting things.”
Once you’ve narrowed your choices, share the camps’ information with your child’s teacher and ask for her opinion, advises Michele Borba, Ed.D., an educational consultant and author of the social-skills primer Nobody Likes Me, Everybody Hates Me: The Top 25 Friendship Problems and How to Solve Them. “A teacher can probably give you a good idea about the fit between your child and a camp’s programs.”
Don’t make your decision by considering only your child’s ADHD. “The bottom line is, you want your child’s camp experience to be fun and positive,” says Borba. “Yes, it can teach your child new skills, but the most important thing it will do is boost your child’s confidence in being away from home and handling life without you around. That’s a plus for every child.”