For most kids summertime means freedom. It’s a time of exploration and long days of fun without the rigid structure of the school day. Nothing sums up that childhood rite of passage than time away from home at summer camp, a place where children can make friends and learn new things.
But for other kids, a lack of structure, meeting new people and trying new things can be a frightening and scary experience.
Children who suffer from concentration and anxiety problems like Attention Deficit Disorder can find traditional summer camps disorienting. The lack of school-like structure and constant exposure to the unfamiliar can send a child’s anxiety into overdrive, making new experiences unbearable instead of enjoyable.
That’s why a group of Cincinnati-area doctors and mental health professionals have developed a four-week SummerSmart camp at the Lindner Center of Hope in Mason for children who struggle with socialization, concentration, anxiety and other mental health issues.
This is the camp’s first year. “One of the things we strive to do in mental health is accept a person for what they are and who they are without looking at their behavior and saying they are bad,” says Mike Smith, the Lindner Center’s patient care director. “We embrace a child as a child. Other camps may try to do that, but here one of the real advantages is that the people who work here are very accepting of behaviors many may not view as appropriate.”
Opened in August 2008, the Lindner Center is a nonprofit organization that specializes in treating children and adults with mental health disorders through various programs.
SummerSmart is the only program of its kind in Greater Cincinnati; the nearest comparable one is a more intense, long-established program at the Cleveland Clinic. Cincinnati’s program is geared toward children ages 11 to 14, and will hold two sessions: June 14-July 9 and July 19-Aug. 13. It was developed by two Lindner Center child and adolescent psychiatrists and is managed by trained clinicians. The specialized nature of the camp makes it pricey at $2,500, but the center will offer four scholarships (out of the 20 total children the program can accommodate) for children whose parents can’t afford the program.
The day camp will operate from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., and each four-week session will serve 10 children. The camp is best suited for children with ADD, ADHD, Asperger’s Syndrome, PDD-NOS (an autism spectrum disorder), anxiety and social anxiety disorders. Though the camp is at the Lindner Center, children are totally separated from the hospital’s patients.
Each day children will participate in a large variety of activities — mental, physical and social — with the goal of helping them relate to other children, and in turn better understand themselves. The camp’s goals are to help kids in five key areas: Socialization, Mindfulness, Adaptability, Relationships and Tolerance (the “smart” in SummerSmart).
“The interaction is the treatment, and how you manage that interaction and how that is set up is helpful and beneficial in itself,” says Dr. Paul Crosby, a child psychiatrist at the Lindner Center. “That’s the approach we take. They have very specific types of symptoms, and that is something the kids have in common. We wanted to keep (the program) narrow enough that the program could target specific developmental issues.”
In the camp, children will participate in group work, play indoor and outdoor games like soccer, have lunch together and work on a joint project like a mural that can be displayed at the end of the program.
“The schedule is not in stone,” Smith says. “We want to be able to tailor it to what kids benefit from the most.”
Children will also work on study skills, along with mindfulness and relaxation techniques, that will help them enjoy their day and lead a more fulfilling life.
“Working on these skills will help them fight depression and anxiety, and this help in areas in life outside of camp,” Dr. Crosby says.
Part of the program includes parental updates and assessments. Upon enrollment, a registered nurse or social worker will ask parents about their child’s medical concerns, current mental health providers, behavioral issues and expectations of the program. Additionally, a behavioral scale will be completed at the beginning of the session and at the end to gauge the program’s effectiveness.
Parents will receive daily updates and the child’s activity each day, and while details are still being worked out on a longer-term follow up, plans are to check in with parents about six months after the program.