Although it may not feel like spring yet, it’s just around the corner—and that means it’s time to think about summer plans. If camp is on the list of possibilities, now is the time to begin looking for a suitable environment that will bring out the best in your child socially, emotionally, and behaviorally. While summer camp won’t change his character or make her learning challenges disappear, the right setting could give your child enough self-esteem to approach the school year feeling capable and confident.
There’s a lot to consider for any child, but for kids with LD and ADHD there are additional factors that must be taken into account. The following summer camp guidelines are designed to help you find a setting in which your child will be a happy camper.
Sorting through program possibilities can be overwhelming. Narrow your options by establishing objective criteria that define your non-negotiables:
- Day camp, overnight camp, travel camp?
- Coed or single-sex?
- How long is your ideal program?
- General (athletics, arts and crafts, games, etc.) or specialized programming (drama, computers, specific sports, music, etc.)?
Faculty, counselors, and staff at camps for children with LD and ADHD should have specific training and temperaments. To determine competence look into the camp’s hiring criteria, the counselor to camper ratio, and training requirements for counselors, specialists, and supervisors. Find out about supervision and support for bunk counselors, and training for front-line staff in issues common to campers with LD and ADHD. Ask also how counselors communicate with families, and what are grounds for counselor dismissal.
Health and Safety
Sending your child off on his own raises concerns about health and safety, especially if your child takes daily medication, tends to be impulsive and accident prone, or suffers from allergies or other medical conditions. To evaluate this aspect of the camp get answers to the following questions:
- What medical personnel are on staff?
- Where is the closest medical center?
- Is the staff trained in emergency procedures and de-escalation techniques?
- Who administers medication and how is compliance assured?
- What is the policy for campers who get sick?
- How are emotional meltdowns addressed?
- How often are facilities inspected for health and safety issues?
- What personal hygiene guidelines does the camp use?
- Are campers unsupervised at any time?
- What kinds of supervision are in place at night?
Though all camps present a positive philosophy, some are wonderful, nurturing environments while others may foster frustration. Ask about accommodations for children who need extra help, and make sure that your child will not feel excluded or incompetent during mainstream activities. Even in specialized settings, some programs expect standardized behavior regardless of abilities. Standards are wonderful if they help your child grow; they are debilitating if they make your child feel incompetent.
Food and Nutrition
If your child has health-based dietary restrictions, make sure they are medically documented and the staff can ensure that they will be strictly observed. If it’s a matter of preference and your child is a non-mainstream eater, ask the following questions:
- Can special diets be accommodated?
- Who supervises preparation and distribution of special diets?
- What is the camp philosophy on nutrition?
- Can campers receive food packages from home?
Summer camp is a practicum in social skills. In addition to requiring constant interpersonal interaction, most camps do not offer a place to relax in solitude. If your child has social concerns that must be addressed, ask if social skills are taught at camp and how social inappropriateness is corrected. Are counselors trained in social skills instruction and managing social issues common to children with LD?
It’s critical to be careful, but equally important to remember that self-esteem stems from individual accomplishment. Children with LD or ADHD learn best when new information is presented in safe, supported increments. “Safe,” however, does not necessarily mean “limited.” Without challenge, no one can grow. But when you eliminate challenge that is overwhelming and unmanageable, your child will not have to face frustration and failure.
The most important element for ensuring a wonderful summer experience is an informed parent. If you are not sure how your child’s needs relate to summer programs, get help from professionals who understand both your child and the camp context you’re thinking about.
After considering your child’s age, assets, challenges and interests, remember to respect the attributes that make each person unique. Some kids love camp no matter what the deficits, others detest it despite the attributes. Take the time to learn what things your children love to do, and find a place where they can do them in healthy, happy ways.