Have you been to diabetes camp?
Tell us what it was like >
ATTENTION CAMPERS! Believe it or not, summer is right around the corner, and one of the best parts of summer is camp! Diabetes camps have lots to offer—they're just as much fun as "regular" camps, plus you get to meet other kids and counselors with diabetes, learn how to take better care of yourself, test out the latest technology, and more. If you're newly diagnosed, these experiences can be especially important and empowering.
Taylor Howard, 11, of Michigan, explains, "The camp tries to get us kids to do something we have not done before, like give ourselves shots for the first time, or put our injection in a different place. When we do, the camp makes a really big deal out of it, usually at the next meal. It makes us feel like we are great and that we have accomplished something fantastic."
But the focus isn't just on diabetes. Elizabeth Gildea, 12, of Ohio says she likes camp because "everybody treats each other like regular people because diabetes doesn't make us any different from people without diabetes. We have crafts and activities just like normal camps."
Speaking of "normal" camps, some kids with diabetes do attend them. Stephanie Harmelin, 21, has been attending Camp Danbee in Massachusetts since she was 9 and is now a counselor. She was diagnosed with diabetes at 12, and says she never even considered not going back to Danbee. "It's not that I had anything against diabetes camps," she says. "I was just already attached to my own camp. If you are going to a regular camp, though, you should already be the primary handler of your diabetes before you go, or else it will be too much of a shock."
It's extremely important, especially with non-diabetes camps, for the parents, child, and camp staff to have open, honest discussions before camp starts. Stephanie says, "The parents should speak to the people in charge about diabetes, find out what they're willing to do, and inform the camp of the camper's needs." It's also a good idea to find out if there are or have been any others with diabetes at the camp—campers or counselors. Get in touch with them if you can and ask them about their experiences at camp.
Choices, Choices Diabetes camps have become more and more popular over the years, and now offer endless options. There are day camps and sleep away camps, girls- or boys-only camps, family camps, specialty camps like horseback riding camp, basketball camp, adventure camp…and even scuba diving camp! Many have sessions throughout the year, although summer is usually the busiest season.
What About Homesickness? Sometimes kids get homesick their first time at camp, so if you're nervous about that, you're not alone. Some kids get over their homesickness very quickly with all the activities to keep them busy, but others take longer. If you think this might be a problem for you, talk to your parents and see if you can come up with a plan to beat homesickness. You might bring some familiar things from home to camp, or have your parents and relatives send you lots of mail. Or, consider trying a day camp instead of sleep away camp.
How Much Does it Cost? Most, but not all, diabetes camps cost money, but the fees vary depending on the type of camp and how long it lasts. For families who may not be able to afford the fee, there are often scholarships available. Sometimes the camp itself has a payment plan, or offers scholarships ("camperships") for a certain number of campers. Otherwise, doctors, hospitals, and pharmaceutical companies are also good sources for help.
Sign up Early! Now that you've got the inside scoop on camps, see if there's one that looks right for you. Check the Web (try www.childrenwithdiabetes.com/camps or www.diabetescamps.org) or ask your doctor for camps in your area, then request an application, or fill one out online—the earlier the better!