A Summer of Fun for Children With ADHD


Each year, tens of thousands of kids across the U.S. say goodbye to desks and books and hello to summer camp. For most it means a season filled with kids active and entertained,” she says.

The NYU program, which unfolds each year at a bucolic private school in Riverdale (about a 30 minute bus ride from Manhattan) is one of 17 treatment/fun summer “camps” across the U.S. and Canada modeled after a prototype created more than 20 years ago by William Pelham Jr., PhD, a children with ADHD taking Swimming
3:45 – 4:00 — Transition
4:00 – 5:00 — Computer skills
5:00 – 5:30 — Departure

“We plan every minute, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t fun — the activities are structured in a way that allows the kids to be fully engaged at all times. Ultimately, they are not only entertained and occupied, they also learn important coping skills that work in all areas of their life,” says Hodgens.

Survivor: ADHD Style!

Taking the theory in a slightly different direction are sleep-away camps like Talisman, a North Carolina program for children aged 9 to 17 with ADHD, as well as a variety of other learning disabilities and behavioral problems. Based on programs developed by the nationwide Aspen Education Group, Talisman has been ongoing for nearly a quarter of a century. Director Linda Tatapough says structure, discipline, and positive reinforcement are the keys to its success.

“Our programs are designed to be highly structured and highly supervised — one big difference from your typical summer camp. But we feel this approach is important for children with ADHD because if you give them too much freedom there are just too many choices — and that leads to problems,” says Tatapough.

Although in the past Talisman’s activities focused primarily on sports and leisure, this year they will incorporate skill strengthening, academic-related activities into the program as well. But Tatapough says what really sets their camp apart is a commitment to helping children recognize and work out their behavioral problems as they occur.

“We deal with issues in a group process, and whenever there’s a problem, we sit down and discuss it right then and there — the child learns to take immediate responsibility for their actions, and we talk about what can be done to change things in the future with more appropriate choices,” says Tatapough.

Another active force: Encouraging the kids to work together toward a common goal that benefits all of them. “If we all work together to climb a mountain in three hours instead of six, then everyone benefits with more free time,” says Tatapough. This, she says, encourages relating to peers and helps diminish feelings of isolation that many of these kids experience in their normal academic setting.

Wilderness Adventure

A bit bolder and somewhat more daring is a sleep-away summer program called SOAR — Success Oriented Achievement Realized. A program for preteens, teens, and young adults with ADHD or other learning disabilities, you won’t find any ceramics, computers, or other classroom activities here. Instead, summer life at SOAR is pure high adventure wilderness living, along the lines of Survivor — at least in terms of coming face-to-face with the unexpected almost every day. And that, say experts, is the magic of what makes this program work.

Indeed, the philosophy behind SOAR is that children with learning disabilities or ADHD “flourish” when allowed to focus on their strengths in a totally new and challenging environment. And challenging they are. While SOAR’s home bases are located in Balsam, N.C., and DuBois, Wyo., their two- and four-week programs lead expeditions throughout the Southeast, Florida Keys, Caribbean, Rockies, and desert Southwest, with special programs also available in Belize, Central America. Activities include wilderness backpacking, horse packing, rock climbing, whitewater rafting, wildlife studies, mountaineering, scuba diving, snorkeling, sea kayaking, and wilderness medicine.

Because up to 80% of all children with ADHD or other learning disabilities are on some type of medication regimen, SOAR as well as all of the camps previously mentioned, is staffed with psychologists, nurses, and counselors trained in administering treatments and watching over those who are on medication. The counselor-to-camper ratio is also quite high in nearly all the ADHD summer programs throughout the country, thus ensuring that the children are not only well cared for, but also that they receive the necessary emotional support as well as physical attention.

For more information on the summer treatment programs philosophy, visit ctadd.net/ctadd/stpmanual2.html.

To learn more about The NYU Program, visit www.aboutourkids.org.

Find the University of Alabama program at www.circ.uab.edu/sparks/adhd.

For information on SOAR, visit www.SOARNC.org.

To learn about Talisman, check out www.talismansummercamp.com.