At the mention of "summer camp," questions come to mind for parents of kids with attention deficit disorder: Will my child make friends? Who will make sure he takes his medication? How can I make sure he doesn't fall behind academically over the summer? What if he doesn't behave appropriately?
Camps specializing in ADD and learning-disabled children share a set of staffing and structural characteristics that address these (and other) parental worries. Similarities aside, parents still must choose among a broad range of ADD/LD camps that differ in the activities they offer, their mission and their educational goals. Here are some things to consider.
- Highly trained staff: ADD/LD summer camps often employ counselors who are in fact trained psychologists, social workers, occupational therapists, teachers or speech and language pathologists. "We want camp staff to be up to date in their field, to be able to work effectively and understand the kids they serve," explains Pat Hammond, director of standards for the American Camp Association (ACA).
- Individualized attention: ADD/LD summer camps pride themselves on individual attention. A high staff-to-camper ratio allows counselors to build mentor relationships, teach social lessons and life skills in an everyday context, and maintain behavioral standards. In fact, many ADD camps say their large staffs allow for the warmth and sense of community that are the hallmarks of their programs.
- Social-skills instruction: While kids with ADD often have average to above-average intelligence, they may need help making friends. Virtually all ADD camps provide social-skills training, with a focus on team building. Social skills are integrated into daily activities (e.g., helping one another while navigating a rocky trail, discussing behavior after a soccer game). "We teach social skills all day long in everything we do," notes Dave Stoch, director of Camp Kodiak, in Ontario, Canada.
- Enhanced medical services: ADD/LD camp directors say that as many as 80 percent of their campers are on medications, so substantial medical staffs are the norm. Some camps use services such as CampMeds or Meds On Call to package a child's individual doses, while others may train staff or counselors to deliver and track medications throughout the day.
- An educational component: Most summer camps for kids with ADD/LD build three to 12 hours of reading, math or study skills into the weekly schedule. At activity-based camps, the educational goal is to reinforce a camper's recent learning, not to teach new skills. At camps where education — language-based learning, reading or dyslexia remediation — is the primary focus, instruction is more ambitious.
Most ADD/LD camps accept only children who are of average to high intelligence and who don't have serious behavioral issues such as drug or alcohol problems. Camp staffs typically spend several hours with prospective campers before accepting them, in order to weed out those who are either too low- or too high-functioning. "We want to make sure that we can provide a peer group for every child who attends our camp," says Jonathan Jones, executive director of SOAR, a success-oriented adventure program with 10 locations.