Executive Function skills are mental processes that enable us to plan, focus attention, remember instructions, and figure out how to complete multiple tasks. For individuals with ADHD, these skills are weak, or non-existent, and, as a result, impact the way they manage their daily activities. As may be the case with your child, many of our campers have difficulty with these skills. We believe that summer camp can help campers learn new ways of getting things done and feeling more successful, too.
The camp environment and staff provides a framework for modeling, mentoring, and teaching strategies for honing the campers’ Executive Functioning skills while they are participating in exciting, adventure-based activities. Many studies show that the best approaches to improving Executive Function skills are those that:
- involve children and teenagers keen interests, those that bring pride and happiness
- consider stresses in their lives and explore ways to resolve
- encourage to be active and in challenging exercise
- set up an environment of social acceptance and
- give chances to practice Executive Function skills
(Diamond and Lee, 2011).
Planning and Organizing for CAMP or “Figuring out What to Do and How”
At SOAR, campers are taught and shown ways for planning, organizing, getting things done, improving social interactions, and self-monitoring as they maneuver the various phases of the day. They are also given opportunities to practice these skills each day. A lot of planning and organizing is required to successfully complete each day’s activities.
- Setting goals to work on while at camp at the beginning of session
- Getting support from Instructors for working toward set goals
- Going over each day’s plans with the Instructors
- Learning and understanding the steps necessary to make the day’s activities happen
- Preparing gear for trips, including backpacks, duffle bags, mess kits, and more
- Keeping up with mess kits and keeping them washed and clean
- Coming up with a system for keeping clothes sorted and dry
- Learning steps for setting up tents and taking down tents
Responsibilities at CAMP or “Getting Things Done and Having Fun”
One of the hurdles for those lacking strong Executive Function skills is getting started with tasks and also in completing them. Some of the things that come into play for campers are just how interested they are in the activity, do they know how to go about getting it done, and overcoming feeling overwhelmed with not knowing where to start. A structured plan means each person has daily roles & responsibilities with meals, trip preparation, clean up, and more.
- Encouraging each other to get tasks completed
- Knowing when you need to ask for help and knowing when you need to offer help
- Working to be cooperative with the team schedule and plans
- Learning the value of taking the first step, or getting started
- Aiming for an attitude of “keep trying”
- Honing ways to make and be a friend
Self-Monitoring at CAMP or “How am I Doing”
Self-monitoring is a very effective practice for campers to use as they work toward improving daily habits, behaviors, and attitudes. Learning the practice of checking themselves for improvement is empowering as they begin to take ownership of their own set goals. End of the day discussions allow for campers to review their day and to reflect on successes and opportunities. Also, at the end of the camper’s session at SOAR, they take part in a review of their progress with their instructors and parents:
- Reviewing how things went for you and your group, revisiting positive things and reflecting on opportunities
- Thinking about activities and interactions that happened and how they may have been done well or may have been done differently
- Remembering and using tips from Instructors on good ways to get things done and then practicing those skills
- Using the support of Instructors on how to build friendships
- Reviewing with parents and Instructors the progress made on goals at camp
Helping campers learn and adopt changes in their daily behaviors and habits result in better outcomes with planning, completing tasks, keeping track of their belongings, and self-monitoring. They end their camp session feeling proud of all they have been able to accomplish while having a great time. Summer camp provides a structured, safe, and happy place for campers to hone their Executive Function skills in a light-hearted and fun-filled way.
Diamond, A, & Lee, K. (2011. Interventions shown to aid executive function development. Science, 333, 959-964.
Parenting children living with learning and attention issues requires patience, understanding, and creative management. Often, siblings can get lost in the noise of disruption and crisis. As parents and caregivers we strive to find ways to meet the individual needs of each member of the family, but when the bright pink elephant comes spinning into the room like a Tasmanian devil, it tends to grab our attention. How many opportunities have been dramatically changed or lost due to the irascible temperament of one of your children? What was the resulting fallout for their siblings? How did you strive to compensate for the loss?
Judy Kendall researched this topic (Kendall, J., Sibling accounts of ADHD. Family Process, 38, Spring, 1999, 117-136) and found disruption associated with ADHD had the most impact on siblings. This included: physical and verbal aggression, out-of-control hyperactivity, emotional and social immaturity, academic underachievement and learning problems, family conflicts, poor peer relationships, and difficult relationships with extended family. This resulted in the sibling feeling victimized, a responsibility for having to care take of their brother or sister, and feelings of sorrow and loss.
Judy recommended keeping a watchful eye and examine if these trends are in place in your home. Finding opportunities to spend special time alone with the non-affected sibling can be enormously helpful. Often described as the “easy” child, they are often reluctant to make requests or demand additional resources, which is why it is so critical to consider their needs as equal priority. I recognize those words are easy to say but far more difficult to put into practice. It begins by recognizing when disruptions happen and creating a reminder to circle back and provide the necessary support.
The impact on family members of children with ADHD, particularly on siblings, is an important but under-researched area. This qualitative study is an initial step to learn more about this relationship. If the findings from this study are disconcerting to you, I encourage you to consider taking some of these positive steps to address this challenge within your own home.
I recognize that there are varying levels of disruption ranging from being late to school because poor time management to fits of anger resulting in the impulsive destruction of a sibling’s belongings. Given the feedback I have received from so many families and my own experience as a parent, I have a few suggestions:
1. Spend some time looking for common trends and particularly challenging situations and see if a change in the routine or safeguards can be put into place to lessen the disruptive influence. At the Willson home, book bags are prepped the night before and ready to go. If any of the children are creating a delay, I will drop off the child that is ready, and return to take the other child late to school. Should that occur, all electronics are lost until the next day. (Incidentally, I have only had to do that twice.) This makes sure that your child who is prepared and ready to go on time is not negatively impacted for their sibling’s behavior.
2. Consider implementing a Family Constitution that governs some of the typical situations you encounter, with pre-established solutions and consequences.
3. Learn how to answer the “That’s not fair” complaint often heard in every household that has multiple children. I simply say to both my children and participants at SOAR the following: “I make decisions based on what I believe is going to be in your best interest. I do not consult your brothers, sisters, peers when doing so. I am confident you don’t want me seeking their opinion when it comes to your consequences. Therefore, I don’t consult you when trying to determine what I believe is in the best interest for them.”
4. My wife and I make a great effort to have individual experiences with each of our children. This creates incredible bonding opportunities and allows each child to have an experience that is not exposed to the potential disruption of their sibling.
5. Avoid falling into the trap of having one child feel responsible for another. We have a mantra “Willson’s stick together” thus we all share some responsibility for each other and it is never one sided or over burdening to one sibling.
6. Recognizing frustration for all your children is a natural part of the growing process. The neurotypical child will feel disrupted and impacted. Your child with a learning and/or attention issue may struggle with how easy everything seems to come to their sibling, thus creating resentment and frustration. Validating the feelings of each of your children is critical. Creating a platform to have an open dialogue about feelings of frustration and loss can be critical. Very often, the children we serve feel genuinely bad when confronted by the result of their actions.
7. Creating opportunities for siblings to learn more about what makes their brother or sister so unique can have an incredible lasting impact. Take them to a CHADD or LDA support group meeting that is hosting an interesting topic. Consider going to a conference or workshop together. Families have been coming to our Family Weekend to help all children learn to better cope with each other, and many have sent both the affected and the neurotypical child to camp for the same reason.
Should you want more information on the subject I found the following links to be particularly helpful.
Helping the Siblings of Children with ADHD: Arthure L. Robin
The Impact of ADHD on Siblings
“My teenager is driving me absolutely crazy! Is what I’m seeing normal behavior or is something else going on?” As we travel the country each year hosting workshops and meeting families, this question is posed to us countless times. As the mother of two teenagers, I can absolutely relate to the frustration that many parents feel with the behaviors they sometimes see from their kids. And while it is common for teenagers to drive their parents a little nutty, what behaviors are within the range of “normal” for that age and what behaviors might indicate a deeper problem?
Undiagnosed & Driving Me Crazy!
If your child has never been diagnosed with ADHD or a learning disability but you have always suspected it, you may be onto something. According to the official diagnostic tools for ADHD, there are 18 different symptoms related to attentional, behavioral, social and organizational challenges:
If you read some of these and think “That’s my kid!”, you might want to follow up with some questions to ask yourself (and your physician or guidance counselor):
- Does my kid get a little antsy in class or are they truly disruptive to the learning of other kids?
- Does my kid occasionally forget to turn in assignments or do they have a litany of zeros due to “the dog ate my homework” syndrome?
- Does my kid have a few solid friends or do other kids avoid them because of their antics?
- Does my kid respond to my requests after only a couple of attempts or do they only respond when I’ve blown my top and scream at the top of my lungs?
If you find that your child is better represented by the latter half of each question, you might want to consult with your physician or school guidance counselor to determine if further testing might be in order. And remember, you are not alone! There are a multitude of resources that you can access with advice, ideas, and strategies to help you and your child improve how they function in the world.
Already Diagnosed & Driving Me Crazy!
The average age of ADHD diagnosis is 7 year olds. More severe cases may be diagnosed even earlier. If your child was diagnosed at a young age and is presenting some new or unusual behavior, you may be wondering, “Is this the ADHD or do I just have a teenager on my hands?” Here are some common areas that most teenagers struggle with at times, but could also mean that your child could benefit from additional support.
- Executive Functioning: We all struggle to get things done sometimes. For kids with ADHD, it can be even harder. Does your child often have grand ideas but can’t seem to organize their thoughts let along take the steps to execute the idea? If this is a common area where your child struggles, a new approach to school projects, homework assignments, chores, etc. may be beneficial. The National Center for Learning Disabilities recommends these steps to help your child with goal-directed tasks:
- Prevent overload
- Provide structure and support new learning
- Observe for symptoms of overload and ensure downtime
- Minimize and preview changes in educational environment
- Keep work periods brief and provide frequent breaks
- Allow extended time for assignments and tests
- Keep oral directions brief or accompany them with a visual reminder, such as a checklist
Be sure to discuss these with your child’s teacher to help provide understanding for some of the challenges they may be going on in the classroom and to gain support for your child’s learning needs.
- Self-Regulation: As kids get older, they begin to pay more attention to the world around them and alter their behavior based on where they are and what is happening. This skill is more difficult to master for most kids with ADHD, so inappropriate behaviors are more likely to happen. Here are some tips to help improve self-regulation at school and at home.
- Keep your daily schedule in a visible place at home, and cross things off as they are completed. This helps everyone feel in control of their day and stay aware of any changes.
- Structure & Responsibility! When you deviate from routine and structure, you are opening up doors for impulsive behaviors. They are going to happen, but giving your child specific responsibilities helps hold them accountable and helps them stay focused on being self-controlled.
- Use natural and logical consequences. If your child does behave inappropriately, always use a natural or logical consequence to help them better learn for the future. It’s kind of like the old, “If you keep slamming that door, I’ll take it off the hinges” rule. A more likely example might be, if your child continues to put down their siblings, each time will require three “put ups”.
- Poor Self-Confidence: It’s normal for teenagers to feel low at times as they are growing and forming their own identities. However, in the long-term, low self-confidence can negatively impact so many areas of your child’s life—academics, peer relationships, family relationships, and more. It’s important to help your child see their strengths as soon as you begin to their confidence sliding. Here are some ways to instill confidence in your child.
- Encourage your child to develop an expertise in an area where they already have interest such as photography, computer programming, music, etc.
- Always distinguish between your disapproval for your child’s action and your love for them. As a parent, you will have to discipline your child at times, but kids can often confuse these two aspects, especially when their desire is to please you.
- Praise your child’s efforts just as much as the end product. The steps toward the goal are often the hardest, so be sure to praise these efforts equally!
- Always highlight your child’s successes!
No matter which situation you find yourself in, there are resources available. The first step is evaluating your child’s most immediate needs and advocating for those. Understand that as a teenager, there will be times when your child is simply just driving you crazy, but sometimes it may be a deeper issue that needs to be addressed. As an organization that was built around the needs of youth with attention and learning issues, we are here to help!