As the school year winds down, we begin to think about all of the activities that come along with warm weather and the summer months. Sporting activities, sleepovers, and summer camp are things that always seem to be topics of conversation. For kids with diabetes, diabetes camp is a great opportunity to not only get active and make new friends, but to also learn more about diabetes management. Today, we hear from MiniMed Ambassador, Phyllis Kaplan , about what going to camp has meant to her and how you can go about finding the right camp for your child. Please share your own tips for a successful diabetes camp experience in the comments below.
I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of two. The first camp I attended was a traditional day camp. As an 11-year-old kid with diabetes, traditional camp was not for me. I didn’t like the fact that they made a big deal out of everything related to diabetes. I wasn’t just a kid with diabetes going to camp. They didn’t understand it, and as such singled me out and made me feel different from everyone else. Yeah, I have diabetes, but I was also a kid who wanted to go swimming and do arts and crafts.
After that experience I asked my parents to try overnight camp, and we were lucky to find Camp Nejeda  – an overnight camp in New Jersey for kids with T1D. It was at Camp Nejeda that I gave myself my own shot; that for once in my life I felt normal, like everyone else. No one made a big deal of a high or low blood sugar – it was treated without chaos, and life went on. Having diabetes was the norm, which was a great change. I ended up spending 12 summers there as a camper and staff member. This was my first diabetes community and I am still in touch with many of my fellow Nejeda alumni. Below are my tips for finding the right diabetes camp and ensuring that your child is prepared to have all of the wonderful experiences that I treasure so much.
How do you find a diabetes camp?
Diabetes Education and Camping Association has a great list of all of the camps for kids with diabetes in the United States and other countries. You can search by camp name or state:
How do you know the camp is the right one?
Most camps have open houses, or visiting weekends. It’s a great idea to visit the camp and meet the staff in advance. Before my family decided Camp Nejeda was right for me, we visited their open house in the late spring. We got to tour the campus, ask our questions and get a real feel for the camp. It helped us get a sense of what camp was all about.
Is it safe?
Diabetes camps have medical professionals with diabetes management experience on staff. Counselors attend training as well, before the start of the camping season. Most camps incorporate diabetes education into camp activities as well.
How to prepare:
I hadn’t been away overnight without my parents before going to camp and had a rough time the first few nights with homesickness. Consider local sleep-overs if your child hasn’t been away without you before.
Some camps offer family camp or weekend camps as a first step to going away for a week or longer.
What to expect:
- Sense of belonging: Everyone at camp has either been trained on diabetes management, and/or has diabetes. The people without diabetes often feel like the odd man out, which is opposite of how people with diabetes feel most of the time.
- Learning: Even though the focus of camp is fun, most camps for kids with diabetes include an element of diabetes education in the program. For me, the hands on education with my peers made learning fun.
- Bonding: The friends you make at camp are your friends for life.
- Fun: It’s not just about diabetes! In fact, the focus isn’t on diabetes at all. It’s on arts and crafts, and sports and archery.
- Freedom: Due to the safe environment and the fact that everyone is tuned in to the ins and outs of diabetes, campers often feel free. Free to try new things; to spread their wings without having to worry about explaining a low blood sugar, or not feeling well due to having high blood sugar. Everyone gets it.
I hope you find these tips helpful and that your child is able to make new friends and build all of the same types of memories that I once did.
Editor’s Note: Medtronic Diabetes does not vet these camps. All camps should be vetted by patients before they choose to attend.
*The patient testimonial above relates an account of an individual’s response to treatment. The account is genuine, typical and documented. However, this patient’s response does not provide any indication, guide, warranty or guarantee as to the response other people may have to the treatment. The response other individuals have to the treatment could be different. Responses to the treatment can and do vary. Not every response is the same. Please talk to your doctor about your condition and the risks and benefits of these technologies.