We have just finished Day 1 of our Training Your Dragons Camp for ADHD boys (7-11). The camp is rooted in scientific data that suggest that frequent rewarding of target behaviors in ADHD children produces significant, behavior-changing outcomes. There is one staff member for every two campers. Each staff member monitors the two boys under his or her tutelage throughout the day. Every time the boy hits a target behavior, like listening to staff or waiting his turn, he is given a “dragon dollar,” a plastic gold doubloon. This dragon currency can then be used to buy snacks from the treasure chest, or to purchase games and prizes. We find that after only one day of this system, we do not have to chastise, criticize, or correct. Flashing a coin serves to remind them that they are missing an opportunity. Thus, we begin to transform their world from one in which they are frequent recipients of scorn, to one in which every moment offers a chance for triumph.
We engage the boys in intense, adventure-oriented activities throughout the day. We play games like sharks and minnows, capture the flag, kick ball, flag football, and go on frequent scavenger hunts and team-building exercises. The boys are reminded that every activity affords them an opportunity for reward. It is astonishing to see how weaving reward into the fabric of every activity and decision creates behavioral consciousness, a certainty that every action is an opportunity to get something good. This is a crucial chasm that we are bridging because ADHD people do not respond the same way to rewards as non-ADHD people. ADHDers, especially children, generally choose a small, but immediate, short-term reward over a larger long-term one. So, sitting in class and being attentive does lead to the long-term reward of higher grades, but telling a joke and making classmates laugh leads to immediate attention, reward, some of which is invariably negative. The ADHD child will usually follow the latter path. This camp fills in the gap by giving an immediate reward for behaviors that are generally rewarded only in the long term. By repeating this over the duration of the camp, and encouraging family members to follow suit, these behaviors become more firmly rooted. We also offer monthly follow-up outings throughout the school year so that the learning takes hold and continues to blossom.
ADHD people learn differently. This camp, which conceptualizes challenges in life as our “Dragons,” offers a learning system that works for ADHDers. These children are not yelled at, shushed constantly, or marginalized, as they often are in school. They realize they are capable of more successfully controlling their behavior. This discovery makes them feel more confident and able to take on the challenges of school and life. The lesson I take from this camp is that we can craft systems and structures that take into account the realities of the ADHD brain. We can help them succeed in a way that is in line with their true nature, not against it.
The camp is in its third year and was started by myself and Drew Yanke, a psychologist in private practice who brings enormous passion, playfulness, and power to the camps. He is a white hot champion of children who learn differently. His wife, Kimber Bishop-Yanke, has been a source of inspiration, organization, and stability. Kimber is a powerful teacher and innovator in her own right, having created numerous self-esteem building workshops and camps for children, along with bully proofing. I thank both Drew and Kimber for bringing this vision into reality and serving ADHD children. We would like to take this camp to different areas and are open to partnerships and volunteers. One last point, every one of our staffers also has ADHD. They come out feeling more empowered about their own abilities as well.
Incidentally, a lot of the ideas we employ at the camp can be found in my recently released book. Here is the latest review.