Summer Camp for Kids with Diabetes

Mary Kate Cary Health Guide
  • As most parents of school-age kids know, the season is upon us for signing up for summer camps. If you are debating between a diabetes camp and a regular camp for your child with type 1, here are a few points to consider:

    Most diabetes camps usually include some diabetes education as part of their day. This is great not only for newly diagnosed kids who need to learn as much as they can, but as technology changes and treatments advance, it’s not a bad idea for old-timers as well.

    Most diabetes camps are well-staffed with nurses, doctors, nutritionists and diabetes educators, or at least have access to them. If you have a child whose diabetes is difficult to manage – with a lot of night-time lows, for example – it may be the only way for your child to go to any camp. Short of putting your kid in a hospital for a sleepover, they couldn’t be safer. It’s a great way for parents to get a break without dying of worry the whole time.
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    Most diabetes camps have a rule: all campers must have diabetes. The result is that everyone at the camp checks their blood before they eat. No one asks your child, “What is that thing?” about a glucometer. Every single kid carries their insulin supplies with them. My daughter thought this was the best part of diabetes camp – that she had never been in a place where every single person had diabetes. It was a whole new experience for her, and it made her feel less alone.

    However, I will say this: the camp we sent our daughter to was one of the highest-rated diabetes camps in the country, staffed by Harvard-trained medical staff. They did a great job teaching her about diabetes and constantly monitored her condition. But when I showed up for the closing campfire to sing Kumbaya and hold hands, not one counselor could build a campfire. They could calculate a lantus dose by body weight, but they stood around looking at the pile of logs and wondering what to do. “I liked it,” Annie said, “but I didn’t have much fun.”

    The alternative is to find a non-diabetes camp known for being fun, and find out if the medical staff can handle a child with diabetes. You want a camp that is not too remote from a hospital. Not every summer camp has a doctor, or even a nurse. But most of the really expensive camps do. (Chalk that up to what we call the “diabetes tax” – the extra cost of having diabetes.) What those camps do is offer doctors free camp for their kids if they’ll serve as camp doctor for a few weeks. One of the top pediatric surgeons in Washington spends a month every summer at a boy’s camp with his sons because of just such a deal. You could find out by asking your pediatrician if he or she is a camp doctor anywhere, or knows of any good doctors who are.

    The bottom line is that diabetes camps have their advantages and disadvantages. If you have a child who is newly diagnosed, is the only one in their school with it – or if you just need a break – they can be terrific.

Published On: March 01, 2006