Lorra Rudman cupped her head in her hands.
Her son Ben was about to finish sixth grade, his toughest yet.
This school year, Ben's ADHD put up more barriers than ever. He
felt bullied, teased, laughed at, 'different.' He had no friends.
No invitations. No play dates. Ben sat alone at lunch, spending
recess inside with his teacher.
Most alarming for Rudman was that Ben insisted he was happier
without friends. With summer break breezing quickly down the
calendar, Rudman could foresee months of self-imposed social
"It was the first time I felt I may not successfully meet the
challenge as my 12-year-old's mom, caretaker and advocate," Rudman
says. "I'd always been able to keep myself a few steps ahead of
what he needed and had been able to deliver."
The Rudmans looked at summer camp as a way to help Ben connect
with other kids instead of retreating inside himself. But Ben
didn't see it that way. He'd been to traditional camps before. This
summer, he told his mother, he'd rather study with a tutor and
"stay home with mom."
"I knew this would be a terrible choice," Rudman says.
Ben and other kids across Chicago are finding summer places
where they can savor success instead of spending the long sunny
days being yelled at because of their differences. (See camp
listings, page 40, and also check with your special recreation
district, listing on page 49.)
"Summer time is prime time to have a positive experience," says
Francesca Skowronski, with the Institute for Juvenile Research at
the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Ben went to Camp STAR in Highland Park. There are other
camps like this one, operated through the University of Illinois at
Chicago and Jewish Council for Youth Services, but it is the first
camp in the Midwest staffed with counselors and psychiatrists
trained to work with kids who have problems paying attention,
handling their emotions and socializing.
Camp STAR is a summer day program for people with special needs.
It centers around a point system that rewards behaviors like
helping someone else or speaking up in a group discussion. And its
benefits don't blow away with the autumn leaves. Parents gather for
weekly sessions to learn to keep up the rewards system at home all
year long. Often, kids go home with a skill set that allows them to
function with fewer pills.
"Medications don't really teach skills," says Mark Stein,
director of the Hyperactivity, Attention and Learning Problems
(HALP) Clinic at the University of Illinois.
Parents should start shopping around for a summer camp as soon
as they can, Skowronski advises, because special needs programs
commonly fill up as early as February. Research by visiting camps
and talking to other families who have been there. It's important
to know the day-to-day staff to student ratio, Skowronski says.
Parents can let kids tip them off to tell whether they're ready
for overnight camp. If the camper has good experiences with
sleepovers at family and friends' houses, the child might be ready
for camp. In general, Skowronski advises, kids are developmentally
ready to go to residential camps at about 8.
Overnight camps offer opportunities for independence and
confidence in living away from home and present more options in
structure, activities and location. But day camps allow kids to
keep the home ties strong and generally cost less, she says.
Cost is a serious consideration. Camp STAR comes with a $6,000
tab for its seven-week day program. The camp offers financial
assistance packages and Skowronski urges families to reach out to
church groups and community service organizations to help out with
"The main goal is for (Ben) to come away with a more solid sense
of himself, higher self-esteem. And to have fun," Rudman says.
"So far, mission accomplished."
For more information, go online at www.jcys.org/campstar or
call (312) 996-6923.
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