Summer Camp Made "Friends of All"


This summer the University of Utah College of Social Work played a big part in helping to launch Camp Takoda (Sioux for "friends of all"), a summer treatment program (STP) for 8- to 12-year-old children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). "ADHD is the most common neuro-psychiatric disorder of childhood," said David Groot, camp director and a BSW faculty member. "The symptoms include hyperactivity, impulsivity, and inattention. Children with ADHD often have difficulty with school, getting along with peers, and complying with adult rules and expectations." The camp was designed to support kids and families during the summer school holiday.

Three social work students served as counselors at the camp. Kirsta Olsen, a second-year master's student, was the lead counselor. Ms. Olsen led morning opening groups, taught swimming, and supervised the daily activities. As a counselor, Megan Pace, a senior bachelor's student, led daily activities - such as kickball and soccer - and ran the daily intensive behavior modification program. Tifani Holloway, a senior bachelor's student, worked as a counselor and collected and analyzed daily behavioral data. "It was incredibly intense," said Ms. Holloway of the camp, "but the growth I saw in the kids made it truly worth the work and sacrifice."

More than 25 years ago, William Pelham, a psychologist at SUNY Buffalo, started the first summer treatment program for kids with ADHD. Mr. Groot explained, "The program is incredibly detailed and laid out in a 400-page manual. The daily practices are grounded in traditional behavior modification theory and research. This benefits kids because they receive evidence-based treatment, and it is great for counselors because they get to learn and implement a proven research-based program."

A typical camp day started at 8:30 am with a morning discussion group. During this group, awards were given out for "high point kid," "best sport," and "best social skills." The daily schedule included 90 minutes of academics, art, and several recreation periods. Every 15-minute period of the day was an "interval," during which kids earned points for participating and following rules. During soccer and other games, kids cheered "fire up" each time a new interval started; they knew they could start over with a fresh chance to earn points. Extra points were earned for helping peers, contributing to a group discussion, complying with commands, and ignoring negative behaviors. Points were lost for behaviors such as noncompliance, teasing, interrupting, complaining, and aggression. The counselors carried a detailed point sheet and were trained to notice most every behavior and give praise and points for positives and consequent negatives.

Eleven-year-old Andrew won "high point kid" for the first time on the second to last day of camp. He proudly said, "If you follow the rules and just don't do any negative behaviors, well, you can earn over 3000 points, and then you get awards and get to go on field trips!" Seven weeks earlier, Andrew earned less than 700 points per day. During the final two days of camp, he was "high point kid" and had only one negative behavior. "Camp Takoda was transformational for our son," said Andrew's father. "He began with very low self-esteem and ended the seven-week period the happiest we have ever known him: full of self-confidence and calm. He learned how to play sports for the first time in his life and had a tremendous amount of fun. It was, with little question, the most fulfilling and enduring experience of his life."

Currently, the College of Social Work is working with the Utah Alliance for Children (the organization that started the camp) to create a sustainable future for the camp. "The camp is great for kids and families," said Mr. Groot. "It also provides a great opportunity for students to gain practice knowledge and skills. I hope we can do it again next summer."