Management of Type 1 Diabetes in Children
A Parent's Guide to Diabetes Camp
A diabetes camp is a place where children with diabetes can go to have fun, learn, get support - and feel like a regular kid.
By Chris Iliades, MD
Medically Reviewed by Pat F. Bass III, MD, MPH
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Summer camp is a fun-filled, action-packed time to learn new hobbies, make new friends, and tackle new adventures. For the 30,000 children who head off to diabetes camp every year, it’s also a special opportunity to meet others who understand life with diabetes.
Though the camps once catered specifically to youth with type 1 diabetes, they now also welcome the many kids affected by type 2 diabetes. "All children with diabetes can benefit from a diabetes camp experience," said Teresa Alesia, RN, a certified pediatric diabetes educator at Loyola University Health System in Maywood, Ill. "There are 13,000 children diagnosed with type 1 diabetes every year and a growing number of children diagnosed with type 2 diabetes."
Jeanette Martineau's daughter Lauren was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes four years ago at age 7. "I am a nurse and my husband is a paramedic, so we knew some of the signs when she started exhibiting them," said Martineau. "We made an appointment with the doctor, hoping they would tell us it was something relatively simple. But with a blood sugar of over 500, we were sent away in tears and told to go to the hospital, where they would keep her a couple days, get her blood sugar under control, and teach us how to take care of her." That's where they first learned about the various benefits available through the American Diabetes Association (ADA). "We were given information about different programs they have and told to look into the diabetes camp, that camp is a great learning experience for kids, and that Lauren would get a chance to meet lots of other kids coping with the same things she was," Martineau recalled.
The camps offer kids an opportunity to meet and share their experiences with others who know what it’s like to grow up with diabetes. "Children with diabetes are a minority in school, but at diabetes camp they are normal," said Alesia. "They are not alone, and they gain confidence from peer support." Many children with diabetes come back year after year, and some even go on to become camp counselors.
A Unique Camping Experience
"Diabetes camp is different because kids can be with other kids who understand exactly what they are going through,” said Martineau. “Other kids may have different tips or ideas about how to do things, what has worked for them, different foods to eat, or how to manage diabetes with sporting activities."
Diabetes camp also offers a lot of education to help children become confident and competent in taking charge of their condition. Camp counselors are also diabetes teachers and can give kids one-on-one counseling to learn how to manage diabetes on their own.
"Not only are they surrounded by other kids, but they are also surrounded by doctors, nurses, nursing students, dieticians, and counselors, some of which are diabetics themselves," Martineau said. "The kids are learning while they are having all this fun. They have classes on nutrition, diet, exercise, foot care, eye care, blood glucose management, and many other topics." Medical staff are on hand to make sure the children are safe.
Traditional camp experiences don't take a backseat, though. "We try to sneak in the education parts in snippets," Alesia said. “We don't want the education part of the experience to overwhelm the having fun part. There is plenty of time for both.”
Choosing a Camp for Your Child
There are over 400 diabetes camps worldwide, according to the Diabetes Education & Camp Association (DECA). The cost of camp varies greatly depending on the length of the program, types of activities offered, size of the staff, and other factors, said Shelley Yeager, Director of Outreach and Development for DECA. Some camps are fully sponsored and offered at no expense to participants’ families, while others may cost a few hundred dollars to as much as 00 for a week-long, overnight stay.
Families can locate camps in their area on the ADA website and register and apply for financial assistance online.
"The first year that Lauren went to camp, we applied via mail, sending in the application and the deposit," Martineau said. "The last couple of years we have applied online. We know that camp registration opens on Feb. 1, so we mark the calendar, and we are online that day to start the process. It is very simple. The ADA sends you reminders about what needs to be turned in and when payments need to be made.”
Camp Benefits the Whole Family
When a child is diagnosed with diabetes, the whole family is affected. Fears and tears give way to love and support. Diabetes camp can be a big part of the education, hope, and confidence that families need to move forward.
"From a parent's perspective, I would definitely recommend diabetes camp," Martineau said. "When Lauren first left for camp, her dad and I were still doing all her injections. But at camp, she learned how to do her own and has been doing them since.
Video: Getting the Most Out of Diabetes Camp : A Guide for Parents and Kids
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