For most parents, sending kids to summer camp for the first time may stir up fond memories, anticipation of the fun awaiting their children, and perhaps a little separation anxiety.
It’s more complicated for parents of children with ADHD. Their kids can find making friends, playing team sports, and behaving appropriately—the hallmarks of a successful summer camp experience—challenging. Asking camp directors and veteran parents the right questions can help parents decide which camp is right for their child. Here are a few suggestions.
Will camp counselors and staff understand my child’s needs?
This goes straight to the heart of the matter. You want to be sure the camp’s counselors have the training and experience to work successfully with children with ADHD. What are their academic and professional qualifications, and do they receive special training to work with special needs children in a camp environment? What is the counselor-to-camper ratio?
What kind of programs do you offer?
Camp can be a wonderful opportunity for your child to develop social skills, increase self-awareness, and learn new coping techniques. At a minimum, that requires a structured environment to help kids stay focused, and team sports to encourage flexibility and cooperation. What skills–including friendship skills—does this camp emphasize, and what goals will your child work toward? What is the mix of sports, academic, and social programs that will help him/her succeed?
Who will administer my child’s medications?
The camp you have chosen is likely to have a nurse on site to administer medications, but it’s best to ask. There may also be a psychologist who can work with you and your child’s psychiatrist to fine-tune the medications if his behavior, symptoms, or moods warrant.
How do you communicate with parents?
You’ve done all the advanced research and preparation you can—but you’re still going to worry about your child. Find out how frequently the camp communicates with parents, and how you can check on your child’s progress.
Talking to other parents whose children attend the camp can also give you additional insight. Ask for a few references and pose the following questions:
Will my child have fun?
Fun is often overshadowed by the problems children with ADHD have in fun-like situations with insufficient structure and supervision. They may go too far, bully or be bullied. They may be shy and not know how to play with others. But fun is an essential component for camp. Ask other parents if the counselors are fun spirited and love the kids. Find out what their child gained from the experience. Did he/she make friends? Did he/she like the counselors?
Does the camp deliver on its promises?
Did your child receive individual attention? Were medications administered properly? Did the staff communicate with you about your child’s progress and/or problems? Did your child learn new skills that can be carried into every day life?
Will you send your child back next summer?
You can take heart from an enthusiastic “yes”.
About the Child Study Center’s Summer Program for Kids
The Summer Program for Kids is the only all-day, therapeutic summer program in the New York area for children with ADHD. Our methods are grounded in the latest research, and our clinical psychologists continually evaluate the program to help each child. We help our campers learn the skills they need to help them focus, make friends, and improve their social, school, and home behavior. For more information, click here.
Karen Fleiss, PsyD is an assistant professor in the Departments of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Psychiatry at NYU Langone Medical Center. She is the clinical director of the Child Study Center’s Long Island Campus, and director of the Summer Program for Kids.