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Family Ties: Making summer camp work for children with AD/HD
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Although it is only March, now is the time to register for many upcoming summer camps. Summer can be a challenging time for children with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and for their parents.

While school can present challenges for those with AD/HD due to its structure and the need to balance multiple tasks, the summer can offer an entirely different kind of challenge — no structure to the day at all.

This might seem like a good thing at first glance, it is important to remember that children with AD/HD tend to do better with structure than without. This leads to the question of what to do during summer breaks to keep a routine in place.

Summer camps can be a great place for children who need structure and routine in their lives to succeed. Some camps are even specifically tailored to meet the needs of children with AD/HD. These specialty camps often fill up quickly, however, and parents who miss out may end up wondering if summer camp can still work for their child.

The good news is that with proper planning, most summer camps can work for children with AD/HD. The first step is to find a camp that works. The National Resource Center on AD/HD offers some guidance on this in the FAQ "Can You Help Me Find a Summer Camp for my Child?" at or call 800-233-4050.

This FAQ points to some resources for parents looking for a camp that fits their needs. Once a camp is selected, if it is not a specialty camp, it becomes important to play an active role in making the experience work for the child.

Even without finding a camp tailored to children with AD/HD, some factors that can help make the camp experience work are to pick a camp with activities that appeal to the child. Some children like arts while others like sports. Either way, the camp should offer plenty of the child's preferred activities - this helps keep them engaged.

Some camps offer more supervision and some offer less. Again, it is important to have children enrolled in a camp with the appropriate level of supervision so as to keep them on track, but not to smother them. Another thing to consider is whether your child would be better off in a day camp or sleepaway camp.

The fact sheet "What We Know No. 7: Psychosocial Treatment for Children and Adolescents with AD/HD" discusses the importance of proper behavioral interventions and lists summer camps as a place for such interventions.

Whatever the treatment plan is during the school year should be maintained throughout the summer, including medication management and behavior modification. School may be over, but with the child going to camp, they are still in a structured, social setting, and must behave accordingly.

As with the school year, communication is a powerful tool as well. It is important to keep in contact with the administrators at the camp and the child's counselor(s). They need to be alerted to the child's AD/HD and notified if there is a medication routine that must be followed.

They should also be briefed on behavioral techniques and structures used with the child to help treat the disorder to keep a consistent front both at home and at camp. Keeping in contact with camp personnel also allows parents to get feedback on how their children are doing and keep things on track.

In addition to communicating with the camp, parents should also make sure they are in tune with their child by talking about camp to get valuable feedback. This allows parents to get an idea of how the experience is going for the child and to see what is working and which areas may need to be addressed.

Making summer camp work for a child is not necessarily that different from making school work.

While it is a more relaxed atmosphere that usually does not have an academic focus, it still is a structured environment in which children interact with peers and engage in scheduled activities.

This is why it is so important for parents to keep the systems in place that help the child manage AD/HD symptoms during the school year and in other areas of their lives.

Some basic parenting strategies to help with this can be found in the fact sheet "What We Know No. 2: Parenting a Child with AD/HD."

Source: National Resource Center on AD/HD.

Debbie Wilburn is county extension agent in family and consumer science with the Hall County Extension. Her Family Ties column appears in Sunday Life on the first Sunday of each month and on Contact: 770-535-8290.