Summer Camp for Kids with ADHD

UIC Podcast
UIC Podcast
Summer Camp for Kids with ADHD

News Release


[Writer] This is research news from U-I-C – the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Today, Mark Stein, professor of psychiatry at UIC’s Institute for Juvenile Research and director of Camp STAR, talks about Chicago’s only therapeutic summer camp for kids with ADHD and research aimed at improving children’s sleep patterns.

Here’s Professor Stein:

[Stein] Camp STAR is an evidence based program that is now in its fourth year, and this is a partnership between UIC and Jewish Children’s Youth Services. And it’s a seven week program that we offer during the summer and it really is an opportunity for children with ADHD many of whom have significant social problems to be able to experience a more normal summer experience and to really achieve success in areas that many children with ADHD are not able to achieve success.

ADHD is something that we tend to think of as a disorder that mainly occurs during the daytime and mainly occurs in school, but in point of fact, the impact of ADHD is much greater than those times and those situations. As children with ADHD, or Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder, get older they have more social difficulties, and they have more difficulties in the family. Their parents are very often stressed by their behavior.

At Camp STAR we have the opportunity to provide this very intensive treatment where by using behavior modification, modeling, medication and looking at a variety of activities – how the child participates in sports, how the family structures the home – we’re able to actually dramatically change their behavior. And the really exciting thing is that many of the children, at least by the end of the summer, have had the success experience and it translates into them feeling better about themselves.

So it’s a very exciting program. We learn a lot about the children and their families and this is the fourth year and we’ve been very impressed with the satisfaction of the children and the families that have participated in it.

One of the highlights of Camp STAR is that it’s also an opportunity for us to learn more about ADHD and so there’s a research component. And one of the things that we’ve learned is that there’s a strong association between ADHD and sleep problems. In fact, sleep problems used to be one of the diagnostic criteria for ADHD in early versions. And it turns out that if you have ADHD you’re at risk for sleep problems and if you’re taking a medicine for ADHD you’re at much greater risk. About 30 percent of children with ADHD that are taking stimulant medications have nightly insomnia. So these stimulant medications, which are very effective for ADHD symptoms, have the negative effects of affecting your sleep and affecting your appetite. And because of that, we are now targeting sleep and nutrition in Camp STAR.

This past summer, for example, we did a study just looking to see what are the sleep characteristics of children that attend a summer program like Camp STAR like. And what we learned is that even though the children did very well behaviorally at Camp STAR and would come home at night and be tired, what we learned is that on the days they were in Camp STAR they fell asleep much faster which is a big improvement for children with ADHD. The most common complaint, sleep complaint, for children with ADHD is that they don’t want to settle down or that they have difficulty settling down and the medication makes this much worse.

So an average child falls asleep about 15 minutes after their head hits the pillow, a child taking a stimulant medication takes about half an hour, on average. What we found out is that at Camp STAR by the fifth week, the children with ADHD, even though they were taking medications, were falling asleep within 20 or 30 minutes. So their normalized on the week days. On the other hand, on the weekends their sleep was much more variable and it might take them an hour and a half, an hour, or two hours to fall asleep.

One of the issues is this variability in their sleep. That’s important because that seems to be a risk factor for a number of negative health problems such as obesity. This next summer we’re planning to study the effects of sleep and Camp STAR and look at the relationship between what their sleep is like at night and their behavior during the day and their nutrition. And what can happen if they establish positive sleep habits – will this have an impact on their behavior. We know that as their behavior improves their sleep improves. But now we want to go about it to see if the reverse happens.

[Writer] Mark Stein is professor of psychiatry at UIC’s Institute for Juvenile Research and Director of Camp STAR.

For more information about this research, go, click on “news releases,” and look for the release dated March 9, 2011.

This has been research news from U-I-C – the University of Illinois at Chicago.

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