Training Your Dragons

Posted on by Kevin.

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.


  1. Team building and game performs a very important role to improve the health of ADHD children’s. ADHD adults and children’s are different from normal and they react very differently on every point. So you are doing well in your campus keep it up.

    Posted on by Hanna
    • Yes, Hanna, so often we expect that ADHDers are going to react like everyone else. We have to realize that we ADHDers have some different neurological things going on. Thanks for your comment!

      Posted on by Kevin (Author)
  2. Please let me know if and when you have camps in the Northwest; specifically, Montana. We have ADHD running through 3 generations to my knowledge, and yours is the first book I have read with real suggestions for help. You are very much needed; thanks for giving back!

    Posted on by Pat Redler
    • We do not have any camps there yet, but we are looking for people to partner with to put them on. Let us know if you’d like to get involved. 🙂

      Posted on by Kevin (Author)
  3. I have had a lot of emails about the role of dopamine. Here is a short excerpt from the appendix of my recently-released book that deals with the topic.

    Dopamine is integrally involved in a variety of functions including movement, regulation of blood flow and hormone levels, and setting the timing of the movement of the intestines (Ruden, 1997). In ADHD, dopamine’s involvement in learning is one of the most crucial elements. Several studies suggest that dopamine neuron activity acts as an internal reward signal, or “teaching signal,” that helps to acquire habits in tasks with delayed reinforcement, especially those that require planning (Suri, 2002). Tripp and Wickens (2007) surveyed the literature regarding the role of dopaminergic systems in ADHD and have proposed, based on available research, a theory they call the Dopamine Transfer Deficit (DTD), which theoretically accounts for many, though not all, of ADHD’s deficiencies. Again, research into this area is young, but many studies replicate the existence of several dopamine-related genes in ADHD, making it one of the few psychiatric disorders with replicated genetic discoveries (Nigg, 2006, p. 207).

    There is a 25 page appendix on this topic in my book for those who are interested. Joel Nigg’s book, What Causes ADHD?, is quite illuminating if you really want to get into the scientific nitty gritty.

    Posted on by Kevin (Author)
  4. Wow, I wish you had this kind of “dragon camp” when I was a kid. I got stuck on the negativity and I think it’s safe to say I eventually got oppositional-defiant. I’m still dealing with this at 25, but there’s always improvements being made. =)

    Posted on by Alex
  5. Kevin, you have really given me reason to pause. Like many mothers with ADHD children, I invariably do a lot of yelling. But through this post, and your glorious book, I have seen the light: my yelling is about me, not my sons. I used to pray for God to give me strength to deal with my two boys, but instead, he chose to answer my prayers by sending you into my life. I have been working hard on myself, as you recommend, and I have found that when I deal with my own unresolved issues, I do not yell at my sons so much. I have employed “the opposite” that you talk so much about. When I feel the impulse to yell, I do the opposite. At first, the opposite was to say nothing. Once I had that mastered, I moved to just noticing the behavior and sharing that I was noticing it, and doing this without a hint of judgment or irritation in my voice. Kevin, these methods have made a huuuuggggeee difference in our family. I wish you had done this dragon camp when my boys were young, but I am glad you’re doing it now. Please continue your work. Have you done study groups in other areas? I would love to support your work if that is possible. Just let me know how I might be able to help. God bless you.

    Posted on by Mary Antonelli
    • Mary, thank you for your remarks. I am glad the book is helping you. In answer to your question, I am in the process of taking ADHD Study Groups to different areas. I was going to do it through a for-profit venture, but have chosen instead to go the not-for-profit route. I want to to two things with this venture: 1) Help ADHD kids across the country and world 2) Create an army of self-employed people who will come to know the joys and adventure of working on your own to help others. I will be contacting you as we move forward.

      Posted on by Kevin (Author)
  6. thanks for share.. this Training Your Dragons realy inspire me. 🙂 hhhe. Essential I truly try to get the blogs, and also personally, to point out good and appear at the inspiring things that tend to be happening., thanks for share 🙂 ^_^’

    Posted on by Rayford Gustavson
    • Thanks for your vote of confidence,.

      Posted on by Kevin (Author)
  7. How does that relate to drug abuse? Isn’t dopamine also involved in drug abuse?

    Posted on by Stev D.
    • Can we leave that for another blog? That is a rather involved topic, Stevvelin.

      Posted on by Kevin (Author)
  8. Kevin, I have heard that this difference in response to reward relates to something called the dopamine deficit theory. Could you respond to that?

    Posted on by Stev D.
    • Stevvelin, sure I can. I will try to keep this simple. The frontal networks of the brain are heavily innervated with dopamine receptors. The ADHD brain, by and large, has irregularly, atypically functioning dopamine networks in this area. This brain region is associated with many of the executive functions that are deficient in ADHD. Some, though not all, of the symptoms of ADHD can be explained by a dopamine deficit, or more accurately, irregular metabolism of dopamine in dopamine-dependent networks of the brain. Since I am talking in this post about reward, dopamine is particularly important because it plays a crucial role in learning and reward. Is that clear, or shall I elaborate further?

      Posted on by Kevin (Author)
      • That is clear. Is dopamine the only neurotransmitter involved in ADHD?

        Posted on by Stev D.
        • Stevvelin, no. There are many neurotransmitters and neurochemicals that function atypically in ADHD, or simply have atypical levels. Another important one is norepinephrine, also called noradrenaline. That neurotransmitter is involved with fight or flight, as well as playing an important role in the memory aspect of learning. The drug strattera, atomoxetine, does its job in ADHDers primarily through its role as a norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor. It works on some ADHDers, but is not as broad spectrum as the stimulants; incidentally, the stimulants work by their action on dopamine, as well as their action on norepinephrine. There are many other neurochemicals involved in ADHD, as well as other brain regions. The brain is a remarkably complex organ and we are still learning about it!!!! We have a long way to go, in fact!

          Posted on by Kevin (Author)

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