Parent Sends 9 Year Old With TS To Sleep Away Camp
by J.K. (November 1999)
Our son was diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome, ADHD and OCD at age 4. Although I never went to sleep-away camp as a child, my husband went from the time he was 8 and felt that his times at camp were among the happiest in his childhood. We decided to send our son to a mainstream camp this past summer.
We looked at several camps, and chose one where the director was very accepting of our son's issues. (They were also willing to deal with his asthma and potentially life threatening food allergies - I wish the schools in New York City were so open minded!) The camp had only an 8-week program, which was a little scary. I probably would have preferred 4 weeks to start with, but in retrospect I'm glad he went for the full 8 weeks. After 4 weeks, he hadn't totally adjusted to camp yet; he really needed the 8 weeks to feel comfortable there.
To prepare our son for camp, we provided him with counseling with a cognitive-behavioral psychologist who was recommended by his psychiatrist. The psychologist helped him to accept himself and taught him strategies for explaining his TS, as well as strategies to cope with any teasing that might occur. He saw the psychologist once a week for several months before camp began.
We wrote a very detailed description of how his tics might manifest themselves and how to handle the tics when they did occur. The director of the camp decided to share this information with only the head of the division and our son's counselor. We thought that everyone, including the children in his bunk, might have to be told about TS, as we couldn't imagine that the tics wouldn't be obvious at times. However, our son managed to suppress most of his tics, telling us that he was "too busy" to have them. Fortunately, he went through a phase when his tics were relatively mild during the summer, or this wouldn't have been possible. (He also seemed to suppress his OC behavior almost completely during his time at camp, which is particularly amazing to me.)
His counselor did tell us that he noticed occasional tics, but he said that the other kids in the bunk didn't seem to notice them. He said that our son was "hyper" at times, but his medication helped control the ADHD symptoms. We found that the doctor, nurses and staff at the camp were all very helpful and understanding. He was particularly fortunate in having a very sensitive and caring counselor who seemed to anticipate problems before they arose. The excellent staff made it possible for our son to have a successful summer.
Although the summer wasn't perfect, by any means (our son did have some social difficulties), he cried for two days after he returned home from camp and said that he wished he could go back. He's already counting the days until next summer!