Since Camp STAR is therapeutic day camp, I like to make sure that parents know exactly what they’re getting in to before they enroll their child. During the intake process, I describe the highly structured environment, the behavioral point system, and the training in social skills and problem-solving. Inevitably, one of the first questions asked after I finish my description is:
“But will my child have fun?”
Yes! I think this is one of the hardest things to envision about Camp STAR for families that have never participated in a program like this. Taken at face value, it looks a little bit like you may be enlisting your child in boot camp! But that couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Most of the kids that enroll at Camp STAR have struggled in other settings, whether it’s school, camp, scouting, etc. And everyone knows these programs are supposed to be fun! (Okay, maybe not school, but we’ll consider the social aspect like recess and lunch instead). For many kids with ADHD, these have not been fun experiences at all. It may be as simple as just not quite fitting in, being told they’re “annoying” or “weird” by other kids, having adult staff get upset or frustrated with them, or as extreme as being asked to leave the program. For kids with ADHD, these “fun” activities can quickly turn into failures. And oftentimes these experiences are repeated over and over again – at a different day camp the following year, or with a new teacher, or on a different team in the community rec league. For the kids with ADHD, these fun programs may leave few fond memories and often end with feelings of frustration and disappointment.
So when parents ask, “how will my child have fun in treatment!?”, here’s my answer:
Kids that come to Camp STAR finally find a place to fit in – every child there has experienced the same types of difficulties related to their ADHD. Our program, with its structure and behavioral interventions, provides a safe setting for kids to work on improving their social skills and learning how to regulate their emotions. We set kids up to be successful, focus on the positives, and help build up self-esteem. Our staff doesn’t yell or get mad when kids struggle with behavior – we problem-solve, try a new solution or set a new goal, and then move on. We don’t just celebrate meeting a goal – we celebrate each small step forward towards the goal. And we do all this while engaging in fun activities that you find in a typical day camp – sports, swimming, art, recess. And while these activities are fun, the really special thing about Camp STAR is this: friendship. Campers feel welcomed by staff and included in their group. Our kiddos find out that they aren’t the only one that has difficulties related to ADHD, and learn to support one another and help each other grow.
Sometimes, even I forget how different Camp STAR can be for kids with ADHD compared to their past experiences. But I was reminded once again during the first week of camp this past summer. On a rainy day, we held recess in the gymnasium, where both kids and staff were running around, making up games, and having a good time in a state of controlled-chaos. One of the campers, an eight-year-old boy, ran up to me when I entered the gym.
“Dr. Kent, Dr. Kent!” he called as he skidded to a stop in front of me. “Did you know that every kid at this camp has ADHD!”
I replied, “I know – isn’t that awesome?”
“Yeah!” he shouted with an infectious smile, and then turned around and ran back to the game where he and his new friends were playing together and having fun.