For many parents, summer camp means sun-filled days in the fresh air, building crafts, telling campfire stories, and making new friends. But, for parents of children with ADHD or learning disabilities, just the thought of sending your child to camp sparks worries and concerns. Let this guide calm your nerves and show you what to look for in an ADHD-friendly summer camp for your child.
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Build On Passions
Often, the best summer camp is one that sets up your child for success by focusing on her natural passions and interests. Does she thrive in an athletic setting where she can put her hyperactive energy to good use? Does she do better with quiet activities such as crafts or reading? Summer is an excellent time to bolster your child’s passion for soccer, swimming, or drama through niche camps. Discuss camp options with your child to find the best fit. Your child will flourish if she’s doing something she enjoys.
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Mainstream or ADHD Camp?
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. But, if your child struggles with social skills or sitting still, an ADHD-specific camp might be a better fit. ADHD camps offer structured programs to improve social skills, behavior, self-esteem, and academic development.
The American Camp Association is the authority in camp accreditation for both mainstream and special-needs camps. They set the standards for counselor qualifications and dispensing medication. Whether you choose an ADHD-specific or mainstream camp, make sure it is accredited.
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Choose a summer camp with a low staff-to-child ratio. Mainstream camps generally have one counselor for every 6 to 10 campers; while special-needs camps offer a ratio closer to 1:3. A low staff-to-child ratio will allow counselors to really get to know your child and provide him with the individual attention he needs.
Be sure to notify the camp ahead of time if your child is on any ADHD medications. If your child needs to take medication during the camp day, find out how meds are administered. Each accredited camp has its own system for managing and dispensing medication. In general, camps should have at least one registered nurse on staff. ADHD camps generally have social workers, therapists and psychologists on staff, as well.
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What Is the Discipline Policy?
Research a camp’s discipline policy before sending a child with ADHD. Look for a camp that disciplines based on natural consequences. For example, if your child refuses to wear a life jacket while boating, the consequence is that he stays on shore. Natural consequences, paired with forgiveness and understanding, are usually enough to discourage repeat offenses.
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Behavior Plan and Accommodations
If your child has moderate to severe ADHD or consistent behavioral problems, set up a meeting with the camp director to discuss your child’s circumstances. Develop a detailed plan for success and follow up in writing, then share a copy of the accommodations plan with your child’s camp counselor. If your child’s therapist is willing, arrange for a conference call with camp personnel. The more information the camp has about your child, the better they can adjust the program to his needs.
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Ready for Overnight Camp?
Age is not always a factor when determining if your child is ready for overnight camp. A 7-year-old may be ready, while a 12-year-old might not. Consider how your child handles sleepovers. If overnight stays usually bring a late-night phone call home, he’s probably not ready for overnight camp. If your child transitions easily between activities, he’ll most likely adapt well to sleep-away camp.
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Focus On Success
The summer camp you choose for your child should focus on her strengths and build confidence. Let her forget her school challenges and failures by emphasizing her summer camp successes – particularly her social strides. One successful summer can help boost a child's confidence with lasting effects throughout the school year.