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 swimming, softball, arts and crafts, and tons of fun.
For some, however -- a select group of children with a behavioral disorder known as attention deficient hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) -- it's also an opportunity to build skills and increase self-esteem and confidence for a lifetime. That's precisely the point of an increasingly popular type of summer camp -- programs designed specifically for children with ADHD. Carefully structured, intimately monitored, even scientifically proven, the focus is on improving behavior while still giving kids a darn good summer's worth of fun.
The symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder -- or ADHD -- vary from person to person, but consist of some combination of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.
Inattention. People who are inattentive have a hard time keeping their mind focused on one thing and may get bored with a task after only a few minutes. Focusing conscious, deliberate attention to organizing and completing routine tasks may be difficult. You may notice restlessness, procrastination, problems remembering...
"We never forget that fun is an essential part of the equation here -- the children need to enjoy themselves and they do, but they also know and understand that the program is about fostering the development of important skills and coping mechanisms that can not only help them when they return to school, but throughout their lifetime," says Karen Fleiss, PsyD, the director of the Summer Kids Program for children with ADHD at New York University Medical Center in New York City.
A behavioral disorder marked by a specific set of symptoms, ADHD frequently causes problems focusing or paying attention. Children with this disorder are often considered "hyperactive," with a continual need for stimulation and motion. Impulsivity, another common trait, often manifests in the form of combative behavior. Although doctors aren't certain what causes ADHD, many believe it's based on a biochemical imbalance in the brain that may also be linked to anxiety and possibly depression. The National Institute of Mental Health estimates 3% to 5% of all children -- more than 2 million American kids -- have ADHD, with boys affected almost twice as often as girls.
"Many of these children are singled out as being 'difficult' -- some are earmarked as bullies or troublemakers, who tease other children, sometimes relentlessly, which frequently leads to fights or other disruptive behaviors," Fleiss tells WebMD. This, combined with difficulty in focusing, says Fleiss, often makes it hard to socialize with other children -- one reason the special summer camps are such a plus.
"Here they learn to recognize their behaviors and, more importantly, learn how to make smarter choices when dealing with others -- and ultimately that helps build their self-esteem, which in turn helps them to better cope in all areas of their life," says Fleiss.