Summer Camps for Kids with Learning Disabilities or AD/HD
February 25, 2004
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The end of the school year is fast
approaching and if camp is part of your child’s summer plans,
it’s time to start looking. Choosing a summer camp is tough for
any parent, but add learning disabilities (LD) or
Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD) into the mix
and the search can become downright overwhelming. Fortunately,
with a little planning, your camp search will be manageable and
you’ll confidently select the right summer program for your
The first step in a successful
search is a clear understanding of
your child’s needs and goals
for summer camp. Think about why you want him to attend camp.
Talk with your child about his wishes and worries and keep these
things in mind as you investigate. Kids with learning and
attention problems often benefit from being involved in
extracurricular, non-academic activities in which they excel, to
offset school’s negative impact on their self-esteem. This
summer you might want to give your child an opportunity to
explore a little. This offers him a chance to master something
new, discover a long-term interest, or make new friends.
Second, learn the differences
between the types of camps available. Decide
which characteristics best suit you
and your child. Finally,
ask a lot of questions. Talk to camp staff and past campers.
Don’t hesitate to raise questions about any issue that is
important to you or your child.
Types of Camps
Residential (Overnight) Camps:
Campers sleep and eat all meals at the camp.
Day Camps: Campers are
transported to camp each day and return home at night.
Campers backpack, travel on horseback, or experience a variety
of adventures at these away-from-home camps.
Choose the type of camp best
suited to your child’s personality. Does he adapt well to new
situations? Is he likely to get homesick? Is he ready for an
extended separation from his family?
Camp Focus and Activities
Traditional camps focus on
outdoor activities, sports, and crafts.
Academic camps emphasize
learning, often focusing on a specific subject such as math,
science, technology, or reading.
Special needs camps cater to
children with a disability, medical issue, or other concerns.
While academic and special needs
camps also include some traditional camp activities, the
emphasis will be on the camp’s mission. Your choice should be
dictated by your goals for the summer. Do you want your child to
spend time with other kids who have LD or AD/HD, or do you
prefer a more mainstream environment? Do you want some time
spent on academics, or are fun and socialization what your child
really needs this summer?
Once you’ve decided on the type of
camp that’s right for your child, narrow the search to specific
camps. To get started, check the summer camp resources we
provide at the end of this article. Also ask for camp
recommendations from your personal resources, such as:
Friends and neighbors
Parents of your child’s
Your child’s school
Local community service
Request brochures from camps that
fit your needs. The brochures will give you information about
dates, costs, camper's ages, and activities. Remember, though,
it’s the staff that brings the camp to life. Contact the camp
director to ask specific questions. Use your discussion to get a
feel for director’s personality and philosophy. Here are some
topics to discuss:
Camp Philosophy and Goals:
Some camps encourage a competitive environment, while others
foster cooperation and interdependence. Be sure the camp’s
atmosphere is compatible with your child’s personality.
Staff Background and Training:
Ask about the director’s education and certification. Find out
the ages of the counselors and how they are chosen and
The American Camping Association recommends one counselor for
every eight campers, but a lower ratio might be better for
kids with LD or AD/HD.
Problem Handling: Get
specific information about camp rules and how problems are
Parent Visits: Ask if
parent visits are allowed, both at day camps and residential
Special Needs: Find out
how special needs are handled. For example, if your child is
taking medication, ask who dispenses the medicine and how the
schedule is ensured.
References: Always request
references and contact past campers.
Beyond these basic questions,
discuss with the director any issues of special concern to your
child, such as:
The camp’s experience with
children with LD or AD/HD.
Group size and age mix for
The ratio of structured to
You know which accommodations in
your household and at school help your child succeed, so address
these with the camp director. By keeping your child’s strengths,
needs, and interests in mind throughout your camp search, you’ll
be able to choose a summer camp that addresses your concerns and
is fun for your child.
Organizations & Resources
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