We’ve known that our 11-year-old son, Ian, has ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) since he was in third grade. Actually, we knew something was wrong even when he was in preschool. He was having major meltdowns, had no impulse control, was constantly touching things, and couldn’t seem to stop running. He even ran out of his classroom. One time he almost got hit by a bus after he did so; he just wasn’t paying attention.
But no one could diagnose him. It was a very hectic, stressful time because he was so hard to control. Finally, three years ago, I showed a video of his behavior to the staff at a child development center and they said, “Oh, that’s ADHD.”
The challenge: Summer care for children with ADHD
Ian’s behavior is now better controlled, thanks to medications and a classroom aide at school. But the summers are challenging. Both my husband and I work full time, and we can’t leave Ian home alone. Even when he’s on medication, he acts without thinking and can easily get into trouble. We did find an ADHD camp, but it was an hour away, and we couldn’t drive there and back twice a day. We tried one day care center, but that turned out to be a disaster -- their way of disciplining him was to make him sit in a corner. That doesn’t work for a child with ADHD. And private babysitters are just too expensive, especially given our medical bills.
Finally, a couple years ago, we found an all-day summer program at a local elementary school. The staff there really wanted to make it work with Ian. They understand that he can get anxious or overstimulated, so we created a “quiet zone” for him outside. He can go there if he feels too hyper. He knows it’s a place just for him where he can go and get calm. We also taught him how to breathe and count to 10 when he feels an attack coming on. And because that program is for many age groups, it’s easier for Ian to make friends. He can find children who are around his developmental age, which is 8. He will be caught up, developmentally, by 8th grade.
Other options for ADHD summer care
This summer he’ll technically be too old for that program. But we’re talking about having him go back as a helper. It would be good for him to take some responsibility.
What we’ve learned is that you have to look for care in places you might not expect to find it -- churches, parks and rec programs, dance and art studios, local universities, or YMCAs. The key is finding a small program; if there are too many kids, it’s too stimulating. And you need staff who are willing to communicate with you and try to help your child. The solutions are out there; it just takes a little work to find them.