As the school year begins to wind down and the summer vacation looms ahead, parents of children with ADHD often look to summer camps to keep their children busy, add structure to their days or give them an opportunity to explore interests - either in overnight camps or local day camps. Many parents may wonder whether or not to discuss ADHD with the camp counselors. While this is a personal decision, and one that should be based on your unique situation, the following suggestions may help you decide what is best for your child.
Always keep in mind your child’s best interests. Think about why you want or don’t want to discuss ADHD with the counselors. Are you worried your child will be labeled as “bad” or that counselors will automatically assume your child will be a problem? Are you concerned about whether the other children in the camp will tease your child? Do you think that symptoms of ADHD may interfere with your child’s ability to get along with others or follow directions? Are you disclosing or not disclosing ADHD because you feel it would be best?
Think about how your child’s ADHD symptoms may impact his camp experience. What problems do you anticipate? Being prepared for potential difficulties can help you plan strategies to help lessen or manage symptoms.
List behavioral strategies that have worked throughout the school year, as these strategies will probably work well during summer camp as well. Providing counselors with a list of ways to help your child manage symptoms may help your child have a good experience. For example, you may list how teachers managed over-stimulation or worked on following directions. For day camps, you may ask counselors to complete a daily report card so you can discuss any problems with your child in the evening.
In addition to listing any potential problems, list your child’s strengths, talents and interests. This information helps counselors see your child in a positive way and also helps them develop strategies based on your child’s individuality.
If your child is taking medication, you should let the counselors know what medication he takes, even if he is attending a local day camp and counselors will not be required to give him medication. It is important, in case of any medical emergency, that camp staff knows all medication a child is on. If your child is attending overnight camp, be sure to leave the prescribing doctor’s address and phone number.
For overnight camps, think about additional concerns, such as bedwetting or problems sleeping. Camp staff should be aware of these types of situations so they are prepared to help your child discreetly and without punishing your child for these types of behaviors.
Be prepared to educate counselors on ADHD and how it impacts your child. While some counselors may be familiar with and have experience with children with ADHD, others may not. Have some printed basic information on ADHD along with commonly used behavioral strategies. Encourage counselors to see ADHD in a positive way by pointing out your child’s strengths and talents.
Be proactive when talking with counselors and ask questions about how they would handle certain situations. Ask about daily structure, activities, how misbehaviors are handled, what happens if your child does not want to participate in an activity, etc. You may want to write down several typical scenarios to find out the camp’s policies for different situations.
Let the staff know you are available to help at any time. Leave emergency contact information and your cell phone number. Let the staff know if your child is exhibiting certain behaviors and they are not sure the best way to manage the behavior, they can call and together you can develop an effective strategy.
Close, friendly contact and encouraging open discussion about any potential problems can help immensely, but be sure not to hover over the staff. Give them time to get to know your child and allow your child the opportunity to experience all the camp has to offer.
For more information:
Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.