Specialized Summer Camp Teaches Social Skills, Sportsmanship

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Camp STAR Among Growing Number of Specialized Therapeutic Camps

Camp STAR is among a growing number of specialized summer camps designed for youngsters with a variety of neurologic and behavioral diagnoses. It adheres to an evidence-based summer treatment program developed in 1980 by clinical psychologist and ADHD specialist William E. Pelham Jr., then at Florida State University, and now at Florida International University in Miami. His program is offered at a number of sites, including the Cleveland Clinic Children's Hospital, Center for Children and Families at the State University of New York at Buffalo, University of Alabama at Birmingham and NYU Summer Program for Kids. The American Psychological Association has named his a model program, as has the advocacy group Children and Adults with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD).

Camp STAR also requires that parents attend weekly training sessions to reinforce skill-building at home.

"When you have a child like this, you're constantly asking them 10 times over to do something and they won't do it," Allen said. "This teaches you that you only should have to ask once, maybe twice. And if it doesn't happen, then there's a consequence."

The parent training, which fosters children's independence and self-esteem, uses a model created by child psychologist Russell A. Barkley. The camp's first take-home exercise this summer involved parents engaging with their sons or daughters for 20 minutes in an activity of the child's choosing.

"You're not allowed to criticize, interject, give directions," Allen said. "You can't do anything but sit there and enjoy your child's company."

That's particularly hard for parents who constantly react to their child being disruptive or inattentive. But Reed loved the uninterrupted time with his mother, and the special time together reminded her of all she loves about him.

"You just see a different side of your child," she said. "You really see their personality and how their mind works and how funny they can be and how smart they are."

Even more importantly for Allen, the parenting sessions made her realize she's not struggling alone.

"To just be with other parents and know they've gone through the same thing is just tremendous relief," she said.

Hayes and her husband heard about Camp STAR from the Northfield, Ill., public school system where Nicholas is enrolled.

"They had really positive experiences with Camp STAR and thought it would be a good environment," Hayes said.

She was particularly impressed by the camp's emphasis on behavioral modification, as well as the opportunity to participate in a sleep study, because Nicholas complains of poor sleep.

Although Nicholas was anxious about the first day of camp, "the counselors were incredibly patient," Hayes said. "They brought out a camper who had gone there before to talk to him and that helped him. It was so nice."

More than two weeks into the program, she said, "he's had a ton of success. He's been putting himself out there more than before. He's been asking about play dates. They have these field trips he looks forward to. He feels happy. He feels confident."

Hayes said she knew that the camp was helping her son when, one day, he proposed a solution to the chaos reigning at the dinner table as his two younger brothers acted up.

"He said, 'I hear all these people talking at the same time. Maybe we should have everybody raise hands if they want to speak,'" his mother recounted. "He was problem-solving!"

Several organizations provide online listings for a variety of specialty day camps and sleep-away camps, with tuition ranging from less than $100 a week to more than $1,000 a week. These include the American Camp Association, CHADD, VerySpecialCamps, and CampResource.com.

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