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The ADHD Child and Summer Camp

It is that time of year! Millions of kids across the country will be packing up their knapsacks, waving goodbye to mom and dad, and heading for the hills—literally. Yes, they will be off to summer camp.

What about camp for your ADHD child? Is camp good for him? Is she ready for camp? These are good questions. The answer, of course depends on a multitude of factors. The issues condense to two important areas:

Is your child ready for camp?

Is camp ready for your child?

Is Camp Ready for My Child?

Let’s look at the second question first. This question is really asking if the camp under consideration is one that is appropriate for a child with ADHD. Does the camp have a philosophy of inclusion in which they are interested and equipped to work with children with varying backgrounds and needs. Does the administration and staff have some knowledge about ADHD? Is the staff trained in the needed skills of reinforcement and behavioral management? If your child is taking medication, is the camp able to administer it properly.

Although few in number, camps do exist specifically for children with ADHD. These camps are designed to present a general camping experience for the child while at the same time providing specific therapy and education relating to the ADHD. To find out about such camps in your area you might check with the local chapter or the website of CH.A.D.D. (Children and Adults with Attention Deficit Disorder) or LDA (Leaning Disabilities Association). Also, check with your school counselor. He or she might have a list of summer camps that accommodate children with unique needs.

Is My Child Ready for Camp?

Is your child ready for camp? The answer to this question is somewhat more complicated. Most importantly, the child’s attention deficit should be sufficiently controlled so that he will have a positive and helpful experience. His behavior should be at the point that undue re-direction or behavior modification will not be required.

Look for the following readiness cues: Does your child make friends easily? Does she adapt well to new situations? Does she respond well to adult supervision? Does she enjoy successful sleep-overs at the homes of her friends or relatives?

In addition, if your child hasn’t experienced success in most of these areas, she probably is not ready for sleep-away camp. But she might be ready for a less socially demanding experience such as day camp. If day camp is too big a step, encourage your child to spend a few days with a favorite friend or relative. Then be sure to praise her success at being away from home.

In general, I would suggest that most children with ADHD are not ready for a week-long sleep away camp until ten or older. For many, this time will not come until their early teens. Of course there could be exceptions with the more mature child. Day camp could be a very good alternative for the child with ADHD.

What Are the Benefits of Camp?

Attending camp gives children an opportunity to learn many new skills—how to swim, ride a horse, sail a boat, hit a tennis ball, use a bow and arrow, tie a knot. It also gives them a chance to master important emotional, developmental, and social skills—how to get along with other people, establish peer relationships, tolerate differences, work as a team, and become more independent. Camp also gives parents and kids a chance to practice the art of letting go. The experience lets children develop autonomy and a sense of self-respect. A successful camp experience can be a big boost to self-esteem. For parents, the separation allows them to take a break, care for some of their own needs, and recharge their parenting batteries. They also need to experience autonomy from their child—in preparation for what is to come in the very near future.

How to Prepare the Child for Camp?

Since children can be fearful of the unknown, it is a good idea to share as much information as possible about the camp. If the facility is within driving distance, you might plan a visit ahead of time. Such a visit allows the child to see the place as well as talk with some of the staff. The mystique as well as the fear is thus removed.

If a personal visit is not possible, ask the camp for whatever information they may have: brochures, pictures, videos of the camp.

Above all, talk with the child about his hopes, dreams, and fears about camp. Listen to what he has to say. Discuss any concerns. Certainly, do not belittle the worries and fears. Let the child know that while you think the camp experience will be good for all of you, you will miss him and will look forward to his return. It also helps if the child is able to attend camp with a friend.


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