Summer Camps For Children With Diabetes

Beth McNamara Health Guide
  • It's not a shock that I'm a little late getting summer camp registrations in. I'm betting many of my fellow East Coasters may suffer from my same problem. How can we even think of summer -- small snow mountains still rise up from most of our parking lots.


    Although summer is a mere warm hope, planning what to do with your kids during those lazy, hazy days when most don't have school is fast becoming a must for most parents. Otherwise, you're stuck with a houseful of kids whining about having nothing to do, whether you're there to hear them, or, if you've older kids, at the workplace hoping that they're find something to occupy themselves that won't damage the house ... or themselves.

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    Finding the right summer camp for the right kid can be a load of work, often meaning hours poring over various catalogs and websites and attending open houses. Next comes scheduling who will be at which camp on what day or week or even month. This is when I wish I had a wall-sized white board, with dry erase markers in numerous colors for each member of the family, for scheduling. Instead, I make do with an old fashioned paper (gasp!) calendar. Just when you think you've the schedule laid out, you remember to consult your budget and, if you're like me, find out that you've put your kids in the Cadillac of Camps when all you have budgeted for is the Chevy of Camps, which always sends me hurtling back to the drawing board.


    Add to this the behemoth task of considering a child with specific medical needs, like Type 1 diabetes, and the normally tedious job of camp scheduling goes from cumbersome to nearly impossible.


    When it comes to summer camps for kids with Type 1, the news is far from bleak, particularly overnight camps. Sleep away summer camps geared toward children with diabetes have been recommended to us almost from the first day that my son was diagnosed. I've heard other parents, children and counselors discuss these camps. I also have researched and talked to camps that are local and also offered by DECA (see below). These camps, with programming tailored specifically for kids with diabetes, seem like a great opportunity.


    I will offer up this disclaimer as I write this, though, my son with diabetes has never had, and still does not have, any interest in attending a sleep away camp, particularly of the traditional nature (meaning staying in cabins with lots of outdoor activities), whether tailored to those with diabetes or not. The only real overnight camps he's interested in would be ones where he'd get the chance to play the guitar 18 hours a day, and I've not found one yet that I can send him to.


    The Advantages Of These Camps
    As I'd mentioned above, I've heard the virtues of these overnight camps extolled in a number of places, which make them seem like a good bet to consider for kids with diabetes:


    Kids are safe and well-taken care of : Since the camps are geared toward kids with diabetes, parents can feel more comfortable that the medical staff on site is better equipped the for challenges of diabetes. Likewise, counselors either have Type 1 or are specifically trained to handle the testing, snacking, and possible emergency needs of diabetes. The daily schedule takes into account the need to snack, test, inject, complete a log - round the clock.

  • Kids feel that they aren't different: Most of the time, kids with diabetes feel like their from Mars when they need to test their blood or inject insulin. Not true at a camp for those with diabetes - everyone else is testing, injecting, maybe even struggling with lows or highs of blood sugars. Too, often life-long friendships are forged and memories made.
    Programming directed towards kids with diabetes: This programming can include discussing what diabetes means to the child in a group session, like around a camp fire, or talking about what they hate about being diabetic.
    Kids can "grow" with the camps: Meaning that some children who start as campers at many of these facilities often grow into, and more specifically train to become, counselors, which is a real leadership opportunity for many.

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    Time off for parents: This is particularly important for the younger set of kids who are not yet managing their diabetes wholly on their own. For many parents, a week off from the daily (and nightly) stresses of diabetes management can be a much needed chance to recharge their batteries.
    The chance to give camps a test run: Some of these camps offer family weekends that give the whole family the opportunity to check out the camp.


    Where To Go
    There are numerous camps across the U.S. that offer overnight camps that focus on the child with diabetes. The following includes sites with more comprehensive lists of camps available. Note that ages and costs do vary from camp to camp.


    The Diabetes Education and Camping Association (DECA): This organization, only one if its kind, offers a comprehensive database of 185 diabetes-related camps both in the U.S. and around the world. The home page of site has a search function that allows the searcher to find a camp nearby.
    The American Diabetes Association : This also has a search function for camps and includes those that are ADA camps and those that are not.
    Children With Diabetes: The site has aggregated a list of summer camps available and has noted when information about the camps has been last updated.


    Going to summer camps that are diabetes-only may not be option, or choice, for some for whatever reason. A common reason that some Type 1 kids nix these camps is that they say "I don't want to be hanging out with a bunch of diabetics." For others, there is no close access to these camps, or the cost is prohibitive, and some prefer day camps.


    Still others want to go to another overnight camp that has a different focus (for example religious or Scouts). Depending on the camp, kids managing diabetes often can go to a regular sleep away camp or day camp. But in order to make this happen, it may require additional work, including reviewing the medical staff and procedures that the camp has on site, educating all staff and counselors on the needs of a child with diabetes, working with your child to ensure that he or she is ready to take on the role of advocate for herself, and, at times even a leap of faith. Click here for a resource article from the JDRF.


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    And may everyone be a happy camper!


Published On: March 05, 2010