Summer Camps for Children with Rheumatoid Arthritis

Christine Miller Health Guide
  • In the mid-1980s, when I was around 11, I begged my parents to let me go away to summer camp. For years, my older sister had been a camper and counselor at a local camp for kids with diabetes. I loved her stories about swimming, canoeing, the bonfires and hearing about the friends she made. I decided it was my turn.

    I was a budding scientist or park ranger (except when snakes were involved). I had read about a wilderness camp out West where I could hike every day and really experience the wilderness. My mother called the camp to get more information. Would there be medical staff there experienced with JRA? Would I be responsible for my own medication or would I have to go to the nurse each day? Would I be able to rest or choose an activity other than the long day hikes? The answers were disappointing. In fact, the camp would not accept me, because if I couldn’t keep up on the 10 mile hikes or had a flare mid-week, I would hold everyone else back. They were not equipped to deal with a child with limitations. Looking back now, I am not sure whether the denial came more from the camp, or from my mother who wasn’t thrilled about any possible risks I might be taking. I was crushed. I wanted to go in the worst way.
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    In order to appease me, my mother began looking for local camps for kids with arthritis or other physical disabilities. But here I had the opposite problem- I wasn’t disabled. I could run, jump, ride a bike and participate in some sports. The camp she found was geared toward children with more severe levels of disease activity. The camp felt that I wouldn’t have the experience I was looking for.

    Disappointed, I did not go to camp that year. Instead, I joined the children’s swim team at our health club. The next year though, I did find a camp that was a great fit. I went to a camp that had a special music camp for a week each summer. I had been playing piano since the age of 4 and was already singing in the school choir, so it would be fun. I still had my camping experience sleeping in musty cabins, swimming in the lake, eating s’mores, singing around a bonfire and playing in the woods.

    Today, I’m sure there are many more opportunities for a great camping experience for kids of all physical ability levels. When thinking about your child’s camp experience, make a list of questions to ask the camp director or other personnel. Questions may include the experience level of the medical staff with JRA. Parents may also want to ask whether the camp activities are rigidly structured or whether your child will be able to choose activities depending on how he or she feels that day. There are many more camps now specifically designed for kids with arthritis or other physical disabilities as well as camps geared toward just about every hobby a child can have.

    Included below are a few websites to help in choosing the right camp for your child:

    The Arthritis Foundation has information about summer camps around the country for kids with JRA, including dates and contact information.

  • Camp Wekandu and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and Medical Center also provide a residential camping experience for kids with JRA and other forms of arthritis.
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    The National Camp Association, Inc. also offers comprehensive guidance to parents looking for the right summer camp on its website. The NCA also offers free summer camp referral services through its website.

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Published On: May 12, 2006