Wednesdays @ WeHaKee: ADHD at Camp?
A recent opinion piece in the New York Times by Richard Friedman snagged my interest – A Natural Fix for ADHD. Friedman is a professor of clinical psychiatry and the director of the psychopharmacology clinic at the Weill Cornell Medical College. In his article, he takes a literature review approach to creating an interesting view on the state of ADHD diagnosis and treatment.
I have had the opportunity to work with children and youth diagnosed with ADHD in several settings providing me with three distinct perspectives. As a classroom teacher, my experiences in several school environments suggest that the unique qualities of the ADHD diagnosed student are seldom embraced or supported. Their behavior is frequently seen as problematic and something that needs to be corrected.
As a school counselor, I moved toward becoming more of an advocate for school & classroom adaptations that would better facilitate the success of the ADHD diagnosed student. Yet many times pressure emerged to counsel the families of ADHD diagnosed students to seek medical assistance – i.e. ‘get a prescription for Ritalin’.
Moving into the world of camp directing, several campers participating at our camp each summer arrive with an ADHD diagnosis – but once they arrive and settle in we seldom observe or see a need to address typical ADHD behaviors – behaviors often seen as challenging and problematic in the school setting. Many of these kids are taking some sort of ADHD prescription medication, yet remarkably several of them will either have their meds reduced or suspended during the summer months. I have always wondered ‘why is that?’ – How is that these kids are happy and successful at Camp WeHaKee, even when their parents describe challenging and troubling behavioral issues at home and in school?
“People with ADHD are actually
hard-wired for novelty-seeking —
a trait that had, until relatively recently,
a distinct evolutionary advantage.”
New York Times contributor, Richard Friedman
Let’s go back to Richard Friedman’s New York Times piece. He notes that “Recent neuroscience research shows that people with ADHD are actually hard-wired for novelty-seeking — a trait that had, until relatively recently, a distinct evolutionary advantage.” Using case studies from his own practice, he gives examples of ADHD diagnosed individuals struggling with attention focus in less exciting or boring environments, yet experiencing ‘off the charts’ success in areas that interest or stimulate them. In the cases he explored, both individuals positively mitigated the ‘negative’ effects of ADHD on their own by changing the environments and conditions to create a more stimulating atmosphere for themselves.
He explores why ADHD diagnosed individuals find some things boring and uninteresting. Research suggests that ADHD diagnosed individuals “have sluggish and underfed brain reward circuits, so much of everyday life feels routine and understimulating.” Friedman goes on to share that this is being attributed to fewer dopamine receptors in ADHD diagnosed individuals brains.
So, is this why campers that come to camp with an ADHD diagnosis seem to have a high degree of success? It would seem plausible. Although the Camp WeHaKee environment does follow a daily schedule, it provides nearly unlimited opportunities for campers to try new things – activities they may not have experienced before or have access to back home – activities that interest & stimulate them! And add to that the time spent outdoors for extended periods each day and for days on end during each session is also known to have a profound & positive effect on children & youth.
Keep in mind, we are not advocating the need to eliminate ADHD medications nor for parents to consider reducing dosages during the summer. Those are decisions to made with a medical professional, something we are not. But we do know the power that the WeHaKee experience has on campers of all sorts. With the increase in confidence, independence and resiliency that comes with a WeHaKee experience, every camper heads home stronger and a with greater set of skills to effectively handle what comes their way!
Thanks for reading and have a great day everyone!