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Camps for Children with ADD

School vacations, in particular the long, hot summer, are particularly troublesome for children with ADD and for their families. Students may find it difficult to adjust from the predictable structure of the school day. The lack of structure and academic demands are a few of the benefits of a school vacation, but for many this just leads to restlessness and chaos. Camps can fill the void.

Day Camp
A good day camp can provide a structured, reinforcing day that enables a child or adolescent to develop her strengths. There may be concern for the length of the day. It is long, and when you add in transportation time to and from camp, it's small wonder that many kids appear to be in a stupor as they emerge from the bus. However, it is a well-organized, structured day with a variety of activities. Frequently, teachers from local schools are employed as counselors and are somewhat knowledgeable of the needs of children with ADD. Camp directors are usually very amenable to parental input.

Start your search for a camp early in the year. Camps are frequently listed in local and national newspapers, particularly newspapers and magazines geared towards parents. You should be alert to camp fairs, typically held in January or February, which allow you to find out about a large number of camps in one day. Also, speak to your child's teacher to see if she can recommend a camp. And finally, speak to parents of children with ADD in order to find out what their experiences have been with local day camps.

Sleep-away Camps
If your child is older and has become tired of day camps, you may be interested in sleep-away camps. Since your child will be away from home for at least two weeks and usually much more, ask yourself the following questions: Has your child been away from home for any extended period of time? How does your child respond to authority figures? Does she make friends easily? Your responses will help you to decide whether a sleep-away camp is appropriate for your child. There are camps geared specifically for children with ADD. This type of camp may be a good idea for those children or adolescents with severe attention deficits. However, you should investigate the camp thoroughly. ADD is a term that is used very casually in some circles, and you need to clarify the specific population the camp is serving. It may be markedly different from your child.

Camps affiliated with a club your child belongs to or with your religious organization would be particularly good choices, in that they would be familiar to your child and vice versa. The transition from home to camp would be eased by this familiarity. The first camp experience should be relatively short (two weeks) and the subsequent stays should depend on your child's success.

If you are considering a camp, familiarize yourself with the list of suggestions provided by Resources for Children with Special Needs, Inc. (New York, NY):

Suggestions for Selecting a Camp
A summer spent at a day camp, sleep-away camp, or travel camp should be a productive living and learning experience. It can be fun, healthy, and can provide an opportunity to develop new skills and friendships. A camp experience may have a great impact on a child's life, so it is important for parents and caregivers to make a careful decision in choosing a camp. Not every camp meets the needs and abilities of every child.

Since you are the consumer, you have a right to ask any question you wish so that you can better understand the camp program. Some of the questions you may want to consider are listed below.

You and Your Child

  • What do you want out of your child's camp experience? Improvement in specific areas (language, reading, gross motor skills, social interaction, skills of daily living, etc.)?
  • What does your child want out of his/her camp experience? A good time? New friends? New skills?
  • Is your child ready for a day camp?
  • Is your child ready for a sleep-away camp?
  • Has your child spent time away from home overnight at a friend's or relative's home?

Director and Staff

  • Who is the director? What are his/her qualifications?
  • What are the qualifications of the staff members (education, age, training)? How are they supervised?
  • What is the ratio of professional staff to campers (senior counselors, waterfront staff, therapists, medical personnel)?
  • Who are the medical staff (doctor, nurse...)?
  • What is the percentage of returning staff?
  • What kind of screening process is used to select staff?

Camp Program

  • What is a typical day like? What are the activities? Do children have a choice of activities?
  • Is one-to-one instruction provided for some activities?
  • How is the waterfront program run? What are the qualifications of the waterfront staff? What are the safety procedures? How often do children swim?
  • Are activities varied for different age groups?
  • What do children do on a rainy day? Do they stay in camp or go to other facilities?
  • What is the range of abilities and special needs of the campers?
  • How does the program meet individual needs and differences?
  • How are behavior problems handled?
  • What is done to deal with a child's fear or resistance to a particular activity - e.g., swimming, horseback riding, boating?
  • What is the percentage of returning campers?
  • What procedure exists for medical emergencies?
  • What is the overall philosophy of the camp? (Goals for the children.)

Camp Setting

  • What is the overall appearance of the campsite?
  • What are the facilities like for indoor and outdoor sports and games? If applicable, are they accessible for children with physical disabilities?
  • Where are the kitchen and dining areas? Do campers and staff eat together? Are provisions made for special dietary needs?
  • Are buildings and equipment safe, well-lighted, and in good repair?
  • Do children sleep in tents? Cabins? Where are bathroom and shower facilities? Are they kept in sanitary condition?
  • Is there plenty of equipment in good condition?
  • How many counselors live in each of the cabins or bunks?

Other Things to Consider

  • What is a typical menu? Who prepares the food?
  • What medical facilities are available at the camp?
  • Are there procedures for the administration of medication?
  • What procedures are in place for medical emergencies? How does your child get to the campsite? (Transportation provided?)
  • Do staff members speak other languages?
  • Is there a visitors' day for parents? Are parents able to arrange a visit other than on visitors' day? Are parents able to call?
  • How is information concerning children's progress shared with parents and/or schools after the camp season?
  • What can you as the parent share with the camp that will be helpful?
  • What system exists for laundering clothing?
  • Do you want your child to be mainstreamed with non-disabled children for all or part of the day?
  • What options does the camp offer pertaining to payment (scholarship, sliding scale, payment plans)?

More on: ADHD

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From Keys to Parenting a Child with Attention Deficit Disorders by Barry E. McNamara, Ed.D. & Francine J. McNamara, M.S.W., C.S.W. Copyright 2000 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc. All rights reserved. Used by arrangement with Barrons Educational Series, Inc.

Buy the book at Barron's.


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