Camp STAR Works on Social Skills of Campers with ADHD | WBEZ
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Eight Forty-Eight

Camp STAR Works on Social Skills of Campers with ADHD

As summer comes to a close, kids are heading back to school. Along with their book-laden backpacks, many are carrying happy memories of their time at summer camp. But for one group of local kids, camp was probably a bit tougher. Camp STAR at Wayne Thomas School in Highland Park offers a place for kids with Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder. There they practice social skills and try to control their impulses.

On a drizzly summer day, 10 kids play outside at summer camp.

I'm rolling the ball to you are you ready. Woo! You hit a single, where do you go?

But the kids here at Camp Star in Highland Park are learning more than sports. They're learning life skills, like how to follow rules, manage their anger and solve problems. Skills that will help them cope with Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) and related disorders.

ambi: It's a Double go go go!

For 8 hours each day, 45 kids with ADHD and other behavioral and social difficulties receive state-of-the art treatment, to help them cope with the social, academic and other issues that often make them at best uncomfortable and at worst unwelcome at other camps.

Christian Foy is the mom to 8-year-old camper AJ.

FOY: He's always had to have an aid or someone helping him and that always made him stand out and feel different and uncomfortable. And now he's with his peers. He's learning now by looking at the other kids and watching them and seeing some of himself and being successful and feeling successful when they've been successful it makes him feel really confident and really good about himself.

ambi: It looks exactly like mine…everybody's looks the same

Before camp starts, psychologists evaluate each child, and create specific goals for each child. Francesca Skowronski is a psychologist checking with the University of Illinois Chicago. She directs the camp.

Each child gets their own treatment plan?

SKOWRONSKI: Each child is screened. We get their strengths, weaknesses, their areas of needs. We discuss each child and we develop a plan for them so they can be as successful as they possible. Some kids need to work more on social skills. Some need to work on behavioral modification and some kids need more academic support. And some kids need a combination of both. And so we really want to to address the children's needs and if necessary we can tailor the program to them.

Through sports, swimming and art activities, the kids learn social skills. Laura Rudman, whose 13-year-old son Ben has come to Camp STAR for two years, says it helps.

RUDMAN: They really got who he is, what his strengths are and where he needed support. That is emotionally, socially and academically. All his goals, his social goals and emotional goals, are specifically designed for him. It's invaluable that he has that kind of support, emotional support with a firm hand. We're learning great boundaries and structure and something we can carry into our lives at home.

Ben agrees.

BEN: It just makes me feel that I know that there are other people who know who have this disease and stuff not, just me.

ambi: we have decided any kinds of weapons even if make believe are not acceptable in art class. No weapons whatsoever! Is we do see you're drawing a wespons, you're going to lose 10 points for not obeying adults.

Much of the behavior modification is based on kids regulating themselves, by earning points. Skowronski explains.

SKOWRONSKI: Each time they display the desirable behaviors they earn points and each time they display negative behaviors they lose points immediately. So, the child knows when something happens there are consequences and there are having to realize they have to self monitor and what they say, their verbalizations. The points that the kids earn every day are verbally reinforced and praised by counselors as often as possible and those points get added up, it helps us to determine if that child gets reward.

TEACHER: AJ?
AJ: What about swords?
TEACHER: No weapons at all.

ambi: Quietest drum roll ever quiet quiet quiet. Who got the bonus points.it's group three and group four. It's so absolutely fabulous

Ben likes the points, too.

BEN: We get points for ignoring helping, sharing, doing good things and participating and stuff. And we lose points for doing bad things that we know aren't good.

Like losing your temper or something

BEN: Yah. Or, er, like talking back or getting out of your seat when you're not told.

To maintain that level of monitoring behavior, the ratio of campers to counselors is unusually high—only two kids to each adult. And, report cards are given each day, alerting parents of their child's progress. Skowronski says.

HILL: And what I find interesting is there is a program for parents here, too.
FRANCESCA: Absolutely. It's one of the unique treatment components associated with camp STAR. It's so important to involve the parents because they're the ones who are going to be interacting with the children on a daily basis and will be able to implement out treatment after camp ends. So we want to empower the parents with as many strategies and skills as we can during our time period. We can start implementing these strategies at home now and the idea to really feel they really have these tools by the end of the summer so they can carry over our intervention after camp ends.

ambi: Green machines, all eyes on me or you'll lose 10 points for not obeying adults

Medical assessments available from the staff, helping families make choices about taking medication for ADHD.

HILL: Are all the kids taking medication?
FRANCESCA: Not everybody takes medication and this is a great opportunity for a child to be off medication and have a structured program and see if they respond to it without medication. We do know that about one-third of kids do not respond to medication. And in this case it's the structured program that seems to be the effective choice treatment for them.

This kind of support is not cheap. The six-week camp costs $6,000.

HILL: Now, this is an expensive program. Do you get help with health insurance?
FOY: No, but we were able to get a scholarship, so that covered part of it. It's a big expense. But after going thought it last year, it was definitely justifiable. You can't really put a price on giving your child the skills they need to help them for the rest of their life.

And, it's a chance for these kids to be kids, Ben's mom says.

LAURA: I felt it was kind of a last chance before he completely isolated. So when he came to camp star and had a positive experience, he gained skills and self-esteem, especially. And the most important thing is he had fun.

HILL: What would you tell another kid who wanted to come here?
BEN: That it's really really fun and you should come.

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