So you’re thinking of sending your child to summer camp. What a great idea! Camps are wonderful places — without parents — where children can experience the great outdoors, learn new skills, make friends, meet positive role models, become more independent, and most of all, have fun. Because your child has diabetes, you may be unsure what type of camp is best for him, or you may be reluctant to send him to camp at all for fear that his diabetes will not be managed by the camp staff. However, a little research can help you choose the right camp for your child, and some planning and direction on your part can minimize your fears. You simply need to know the capabilities of the camp’s staff and resources so that you can plan accordingly.
There are two general types of camps from which to choose: diabetes camps and traditional camps. Diabetes camps have medical professionals with diabetes-care experience on staff, and most incorporate diabetes self-management education into camp activities. Traditional camps are just that: regular summer camps with no diabetes focus and possibly no medical professionals on staff. Either can be a good choice for a child with diabetes.
In the United States, there are over 100 camps that have been developed for the purpose of serving only children with diabetes, though a few also take siblings or friends as partners. Some of the camps have been in existence for many decades, before self-monitoring of blood glucose was even possible, when a diabetes camp was the only safe option for the child who wanted a camp experience. Back then, a diabetes camp was one of the only sources of diabetes education as well.
Today, diabetes camps are diverse, offering a variety of outdoor activities, arts and crafts, and other forms of recreation. All have access to (and should follow) the American Diabetes Association guidelines for the proper care of diabetes at camp. The camp medical staff may consist of physicians, nurses, dietitians, and often, pediatric residents, medical students, nursing students, and social workers. The counselors usually have diabetes too, and many are former campers. These counselors are terrific role models and probably have more of an influence on the campers than the medical staff does.
The goals of most diabetes camps are to incorporate good diabetes management decisions into the camper’s daily life and to foster the outlook that a kid with diabetes can accomplish anything he wants. (Do not, however, expect a week or two of “perfect” blood glucose control. Camp is a big change in routine and a learning experience.) Some campers have never even met another child with diabetes before. For these children, camp is especially valuable. It can give them a sense of belonging that they don’t have back home.
Sending a child to a traditional summer camp is a lot like sending him to school: It takes planning. Because traditional summer camps don’t usually have staff trained in diabetes issues, parents need to be very involved in familiarizing the camp staff with diabetes care. Just as you did with school staff, you will need to start with the very basics of diabetes management and emphasize what the camp staff needs to do to keep your child safe. Keep in mind that traditional camp staff will likely have even less diabetes experience than school personnel. Do not assume that there is a camp nurse or that the camp nurse will have diabetes knowledge.
Which type of camp to choose?
In choosing a camp, think about your child’s interests (such as sports, music, or art) and about how independently he manages his diabetes. He may want a particular sports camp, a Boy Scout camp, or a church camp that his youth group is attending. You may see value in your child meeting other kids with diabetes and learning about self-management. (For resources on diabetes and traditional camps, see “Doing Your Camp Homework.”)