If your child has ADHD, you're probably painfully familiar with the potential problems inherent with introducing your child to a new situation: preschool, elementary school, daycare, extracurricular classes. Here comes the summer camp season, which may bring a new experience for your child. Finding the right summer camp where she will thrive, be it a sleepaway camp or day camp, just takes a bit of homework.
For both mainstream camps and camps for kids with ADHD/special needs, you should get these answers to these questions:
1. Is the camp accredited? Check the American Camp Association website.
2. What is the ratio of counselor to child? It should be higher at a camp for kids with special needs than at a mainstream camp.
3. What is a typical day like? You want to make sure that you're comfortable with the amount of time spent on certain activities. For instance, do the campers get a rest period? If it's a very active day and they don't get a rest period, you have to consider whether your child will be happy.
4. What is the policy on communication/homesickness? Can parents email or call campers and vice versa?
5. Education/experience/credentials of staff. Does the staff have any special training in dealing with children with ADHD?
6. Ask about the disciplinary process (this is important to do even if the camp is a day camp instead of sleepaway). Is there a formal behavior plan that you can look at? How are things escalated? How are conflicts between children dealt with? At what point are parents contacted? If there is no clear disciplinary procedure, that's a red flag. This lack of a formal process might be okay for kids who are perfectly behaved (about as common as a unicorn) but it doesn't work for kids with ADHD, even kids who are high functioning.
If there is no ADHD camp near you, your child is high functioning or you simply feel that a mainstream camp is a better choice, there are a few questions you need answered before committing:
1. How much experience does the camp director have with ADHD children? Can he give you a specific example of a difficult situation with an ADHD child and how it was handled?
2. How are medications dispense/supervised? What kind of medical staff is present?
If the answers are not readily available, you might want to look elsewhere, as this might indicate that they are not ready/equipped to handle a child with ADHD.
What to Consider On Your End
If the camp is a sleepaway camp, has your child had positive experiences with overnight stays (not with immediate family)?
Think about what aspect of ADHD is causing your child the most trouble, and then consider choosing a camp that specializes in that. If your child has problems socializing with other children, try a camp like Talisman. If your child is struggling academically, you might want to choose a camp that focuses on academics. But don't forget that you want your child to have fun, too!
Get input from your child as far as what types of activities she is interested in. Also consider talking to your child's teacher, therapist, grandparents, coach, or any other adults she has regular contact with. Their perspectives may give you some surprising insight into what your child enjoys or is interesting in pursuing.