Camp STAR, the Chicago area's only summer camp offering evidence-based therapy for children with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and other behavioral, emotional and social difficulties, begins its fourth season in June.
The camp, whose name stands for Summer Treatment for ADHD and Related Issues, is a partnership of the University of Illinois at Chicago and the Jewish Council for Youth Services.
The director of Camp STAR, Dr. Mark Stein, professor of psychiatry at UIC's Institute for Juvenile Research, says that the program is not only effective in reducing ADHD symptoms, but in teaching skills to children and their parents that can improve social functioning. Children with ADHD and associated problems often struggle to fit in at typical camps that do not address their special needs, Stein said.
"At Camp STAR we have the opportunity to provide a very intensive treatment using behavior modification, modeling, medication and by looking at a variety of activities -- how the child participates in sports, and how the family structures the home," Stein said. "We're able to dramatically change their behavior. The really exciting thing is that many of the children, by the end of the summer, have had a success experience, and it translates into them feeling better about themselves."
Every child gets an individualized treatment plan to teach and reward social skills, improve attention, and control impulsive behaviors. A one to two staff-to-camper ratio ensures that each child receives individual attention. Advanced undergraduate and graduate students in psychology, education, or health-related fields staff Camp STAR.
Camp STAR is based on the behavioral therapy principles used in the Multimodal Treatment Study of ADHD, which showed that children who participated in a summer treatment program obtained a high level of success with lower doses of medication than children who did not receive behavioral treatment.
Camp STAR combines typical camp activities with behavioral treatments to improve social skills and anger management, reduce oppositional behaviors, and enhance self-esteem.
Campers express their creativity through arts and crafts, and work on classroom behavior in the Academic Learning Center. Weekly parent training sessions will discuss techniques to improve child behavior at home and family relations.
Camp STAR also includes a research component to help investigators learn more about ADHD.
Last year, Stein and collaborators from the University of Chicago examined the relationship between behavioral improvement in ADHD symptoms, sleep, and nutritional intake during the program. They found that even when campers were prescribed stimulant medication for their ADHD -- which often has a negative effect on sleep -- the children's sleep normalized on days they were at camp, but varied on weekends when they were not at camp.
This year, Stein plans to look at interventions aimed at improving children's sleep patterns.
"Variable sleep patterns increase the risk for a number of negative health problems, such as obesity," Stein said. "We're going to look at the relationship between what their sleep is like at night, their behavior during the day, and their nutrition. We know that as their behavior improves their sleep improves, but now we want to see if the reverse happens."