The 10-year-old smacked the first pitch he saw, sending the runner on first dashing toward second base — and into left field.
A whistle’s shriek brought play to a halt as a counselor in center field and other players surrounded the runner to explain the rules.
The counselor then asked a girl in right field to repeat the rule back to him and awarded her 10 points when she did.
Pickup games, academic sessions and even bathroom breaks work a little differently at a summer camp for children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD.
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Children’s Mercy Hospital’s Summer Treatment Program, now in its fourth year, is an intensive seven-week day camp designed for children ages 6-14.
“This program targets all of the things affected by ADHD, and it’s unique because it happens in a real-world setting that we don’t have in a clinic,” said Carla Allan, the camp’s director and child psychologist at the Children’s Mercy ADHD clinic.
About 20 counselors track everything the 37 children do at the camp, held at Kansas City Christian School in Prairie Village.
Scoring runs is far less important than tallying points.
The counselors took roles of scorekeepers and cheerleaders one day last week, rewarding and praising every good thing they saw, awarding 10 points for following directions. They also subtracted for inappropriate behavior, taking back 20 points for verbal interruptions or teasing other campers.
In the classroom, kids working through material on laptops and in small groups can rack up more points by adhering to rules scrawled on the chalkboard such as “We will work quietly” and “We will get out of our seats with permission.”
Even waiting outside the bathroom and reminding fellow campers to wash their hands can earn 10 points.
If the kids meet their point goals by Thursday afternoon, they can participate in “Fun Friday” activities such as movies or carnival games.
It was exactly what 8-year-old Ty Schaber, now at his second camp, needed before starting first grade this past year.
His mom, Ashley Maxwell of Mission, knew her son was different from classmates during his first year of kindergarten.
“He couldn’t sit still and was having trouble retaining information,” she said. “I told his teachers, ‘I think he has ADHD, I’m going to go get him tested.’”
But a diagnosis and access to medication presented new challenges.
The stimulants generally given to treat ADHD carry side effects, including a loss of appetite — a rough prescription for an already skinny Ty.
Despite the sacrifices his stomach was making, low dosages did little to curtail hyperactivity at home. Higher dosages calmed him so much he would zone out playing with Legos for hours.
“It was a complete nightmare,” Maxwell said.
Those obstacles disappeared at the Summer Treatment Program, she said.
Camp directors could review Ty’s behavior records daily and adjust his dosage accordingly.
A daily report card cataloged his behavior and provided goals for improvement.
If Ty paid attention and followed directions especially well, he got an hour of playing Clash of Clans on his mom’s iPad.
Too many silly behaviors cut his screen time proportionally.
And at 6 p.m. every Thursday, his mother went to a parents meeting where she received advice on how to bring Ty’s improving behavior to school in the fall.
“We teach parents how to get the most out of their school district,” Allan said.
Maxwell said Ty was able to get the extra help he needed from his teacher and classmates.
The formula of the camp, one of a dozen nationwide, is based on a landmark study funded by the National Institute for Mental Health in the 1990s.
The study showed that kids receiving behavioral therapies, such as the Summer Treatment Program, required less medicine, said Howard Abikoff, director of the New York University Institute for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity and Behavior Disorders.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that 11 percent of children between ages 4 and 17 — about 6.4 million in the U.S. — had been diagnosed with ADHD as of 2011, a 41 percent increase since 2003.
CDC surveys showed just over half of those diagnosed with ADHD were taking medication, but far fewer were complementing it with behavioral therapy.
That means missing out on potential reductions in medication as well as opportunities to learn social skills and reinforce classroom habits, Allan said.
The program isn’t cheap, charging $4,000 for seven weeks, and only a few children get scholarships.
But Allan points out that the camp’s 360 hours of therapy and feedback are equal to about seven years of weekly appointments with a psychologist. She calculates the camp saves parents about $17,000, not including longer waits for results.
The sticker price hasn’t stopped families from driving for hours and renting nearby apartments for the camp’s duration to get their kids the help they need.
In exchange, they get a team of doctors and a small corps of counselors chosen from a pool of 300 applicants, most of them college graduate students, from around the country.
The 20 chosen studied 40 pages of their responsibilities before undergoing 50 to 60 hours of practical training. The idea was to teach them how to stay positive while giving out constant feedback.
It doesn’t work for everyone. Kids in homes where curbing ADHD is not the No. 1 priority might not see lasting improvements, Allan said.
But Maxwell is sold.
Ty has brought the expectations of camp home with him in his second summer. He promptly follows his mother’s directions at home, making everyday routines such as getting ready for bed easier.
And perhaps most importantly, he’s found a place where he’s understood.
“He’s knows these kids are like him, and he can be himself,” Maxwell said.
“This is his happy place.”