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A Time for ADHD Kids to Shine

Parents of children with ADHD may dread the summertime. But never fear: There are many ways to mold your child's behavior in the absence of school.

WebMD Feature

If you're the parent of a youngster with ADHD, you may dread the coming summer vacation. Most kids with ADHD do best in a structured environment, and summer may spell trouble for kids used to the routine of the school year.

But summertime doesn't have to be a cause for worry -- though it is a cause for planning. Susan Barton, founder of Bright Solutions for Dyslexia and an authority in the fields of dyslexia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), suggests that most of the behavior-management techniques parents use during the year should continue during the summer.

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These include:

  • Maintaining a consistent routine and schedule at home
  • Maintaining a consistent set of rules with consistent consequences
  • Maintaining a positive feedback/positive reinforcement system to further develop appropriate behaviors

"What I do encourage parents to change is the child's sleep patterns," says Barton. "Most children with ADHD are night owls and have a very hard time getting up in the morning. During the summer, allow these children to follow their natural sleep and waking pattern."

Summertime means not only a change for kids, says Michael Manos, PhD, but for their parents as well. "During the summer, the burden of responsibility falls on the parent," says Manos, director of the ADHD Summer Treatment Program at The Cleveland Clinic.

The Summer Treatment Program is a day camp with all the traditional camping activities such as sports, arts and crafts, and computer classes. "It's fun and interesting," says Manos. But camp staff also work closely with the youngsters to give the constant feedback and reinforcement that ADHD kids need.

"We're very clear on what the expectations are," says Manos, explaining that the children earn points and privileges (and the older kids, even money) for positive behaviors such as helping and sharing, cooperating, contributing to group discussions, and paying attention. Privileges can be taken away for negative behaviors such as whining and complaining, interrupting, and poor sportsmanship.

The Summer Treatment Program is one of about six such programs across the country, developed by William Pelham, PhD, from the State University of New York, Buffalo. "This is considered the 'Rolls Royce' of summer programs for kids with ADHD," says Manos.

If there is no ADHD summer program near you, you can still send your kids to camp or even take them on vacation. Jane N. Hannah, EdD, author of Parenting a Child with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, recommends that as you plan activities for your child this summer, you consider these points:

  • Select a camp that is well-supervised. Contact local chapters of CHADD (Children and Adults with Attention Deficit Disorder), SEPTA (Special Education PTA), and the American Camping Association to inquire about appropriate programs in your area.
  • Let the camp staff know that your child has ADHD and how the symptoms of the condition may affect his experiences in the camp.
  • If your child takes medication, don't expect him to handle the camp experience without it.
  • Visit the camp prior to your child's first day.
  • Sleepover camps may not be suitable for some children. But if you decide your child is ready for an overnight camp, visit the camp ahead of time, prepare your child in advance by looking at brochures about the camp, talking about it, and watching videos of the camp. Acknowledge your child's fears and talk about them. Don't increase your child's anxiety by talking about your own anxiety of his leaving. Leave a note in his suitcase with a small gift, and write to him each day. These notes or cards should be funny and cheerful but have little information about what is happening at home. Short closings are best, such as "See you real soon."
  • If you are planning a vacation trip with your child, be pro-active. If you will be traveling for more than an hour, prepare a recreational package that can be opened when he gets in the car, plane, or train. Books on tape, drawing paper and crayons, and puzzles are good choices. Before leaving the house, set the rules for behavior while on the trip. Make approximately four rules and phrase these positively: What you want him to do, rather than what you want him to stop doing. Remember to give your child positive feedback when he is following the rules. The rule for parents: Attend to your child when he is acting appropriately. Don't give attention only when you are giving reprimands.

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