NYU Child Study Center offers unique summer experience for children with ADHD

By Kari Root / NYU

12 Jul 2006

As parents and teachers know, children with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) can thrive in a setting that emphasizes achievement and success and maintains consistency and, therefore, predictability. To that end, NYU Child Study Center created the Summer Program for Kids (SPK), New York's first all-day, therapeutic camp exclusively for children with ADHD, which is now in its eighth year. SPK combines traditional summer camp activities, such as swimming and arts and crafts, with academic and computer activities, in an effort to improve social skills and raise self-esteem of children ages 7 to 11.

"Often, we find that our campers felt out of place at other camps where there was not a real understanding of their needs," says Karen Fleiss, Psy.D., clinical director of the NYU Child Study Center Long Island Campus and the Summer Program for Kids. "Many of the children have a very low self-esteem, so we put a lot of attention on positive reinforcement and instilling a much-needed sense of confidence."

The staff to child ratio is 1 to 1.5, allowing the children to get the individualized attention they need. The SPK counselors are advanced psychology undergraduate majors or graduate students who undergo a month-long intensive training to gain an understanding of children with special needs and to learn behavioral strategies. The counselors help kids improve social behavior; friendship skills; academic competence; problem-solving skills; self-esteem; classroom behavior; sports competence; anger control; and rule following, among others.

The SPK format is based on the Summer Treatment Program, which was a behavior therapy component of the Multimodal Treatment Study of ADHD (MTA), the largest clinical trial of children with ADHD funded by the National Institute of Mental Health. The MTA study consisted of 579 children who were treated at six university medical centers across the United States and one in Canada. Each child was randomly assigned to one of four treatment conditions for 14 months medication, usually Ritalin; behavior therapy; a combination of both behavior therapy and medication; or regular community care, which included in most cases Ritalin prescribed by community doctors instead of MTA staff.

"From this initial trial, we found that the two MTA treatment conditions that involved medication management were equivalent, and superior to the other treatments in reducing the symptoms of ADHD; that lower doses of medication were needed to obtain symptom reductions in the combined treatment condition; and that the effects of behavior therapy were roughly equivalent to medication treatment provided in the community," according to Howard Abikoff, Ph.D., a principal investigator of the MTA and director of the Institute for Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity and Behavior Disorders at the NYU Child Study Center. "We continued to monitor although not treat these children after the original study and found that at one-year follow-up the medication management and combined medication and behavior therapy treatment options maintained their superiority in reducing symptoms, indicating that initial treatment effects do continue."

Parents of the campers are encouraged to take part in weekly training sessions offered throughout the summer. These sessions tie together what kids are learning in the program to what is happening at home. Parents are able to share their experiences with each other and learn effective behavior management techniques that help encourage their children to follow the rules and promote independence and positive self-esteem.

Parents of children who participate in the camp report that the progress their kids make during the summer carries through to the school year. The full-day camp runs for eight weeks, beginning June 26 and ending August 18. The camp is located in Throggs Neck on the campus of SUNY Maritime.

ADHD is a group of related childhood problems that cause difficulties with behavior, academic performance, and peer relationships in about five percent of school-aged children. In the United States alone, it affects between one and two million children.


Watch "A Summer in Paradise" a online video on the NYU Child Study Center's Summer Program for Kids at http://mc-rms01.med.nyu.edu/ramgen/realmedia/summer_paradise.rm. Learn more about SPK, ADHD, and the NYU Child Study Center at www.AboutOurKids.org.

NYU Child Study Center

The NYU Child Study Center is dedicated to the understanding, prevention and treatment of child and adolescent mental health problems. The Center offers expert psychiatric services for children and families with emphasis on early diagnosis and intervention. The Center's mission is to bridge the gap between science and practice, integrating the finest research with patient care and state-of-the-art training, utilizing the resources of the New York University School of Medicine. The NYU Child Study Center offers a variety of mental health services for children, adolescents, young adults and their families. Child and Family Associates is the clinical arm of the NYU Child Study Center and the point of entry for all clinical programs. Its goal is to bring together the most research-supported evaluations and treatments with an individualized and family-centered approach.

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Apr 2016
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