This summer, tens of thousands of children will head off to camp. They'll likely be snoozing in log cabins, diving into icy cold lakes, chowing down in mess halls and singing by the campfire.
They'll also be testing their blood sugar, counting carbs together, injecting insulin and swapping low sugar stories. These are children with type 1 diabetes attending camps with other kids like them -- where many of the counselors also have type 1 diabetes, nurses are on hand to help, and healthy meals are prepared.
Attending a camp specifically for children with diabetes can be a transformative experience. Children can learn more about type 1 diabetes management, get face time with their peers, and above all, have fun and just be kids.
"Discovering diabetes camp -- early on in our lives with type 1 diabetes -- was one of the best things that happened to all of us," says Moira McCarthy of Boston, mother of Lauren, now 19.
"Camps are all about taking kids into a recreational setting and letting them experience life where they are not exceptions to the rule, where everyone is carb counting and testing and doing all of the life-supporting regimens that are a given for kids with diabetes," says Lorne Abramson, executive director of the Diabetes Education and Camping Association.
A Secure Home Away From Home
Managing their disease away from home, albeit with a strong support system, can give children the confidence of knowing that they can survive and flourish in new environments. In his experience, says Abramson, something dramatic can happen to kids at camp as they become more of their own person.
Their time away is also a welcome break for many parents from the stresses of caring for a child with special medical needs; camps are staffed with healthcare professionals, such as physicians, nurses, and dietitians as well as counselors knowledgable in dealing with type 1 diabetes.
"The first year, I was so nervous I hung around at the camp 'getting things ready' for hours on end. I actually considered hiding behind a tree for the two weeks so I could pop out every once and a while and say 'Are you low?'" says McCarthy. By the second year, she says, she was ready for her opportunity to relax and recharge.
One of the Gang
In addition to regular camp sessions, family camps and volunteer opportunities give parents a chance to get involved, to learn more about type 1 diabetes management, and to compare experiences with other families. They're also an invaluable chance for children with diabetes to make friends who have plenty in common with them.
"When kids are in their regular routine, they're for the most part the only person in their school who has type 1 diabetes. Camps can give them a wonderful support system," Abramson says. "If one kid says to another, 'I'm really running high,' that elicits conversation that you would never be able to have elsewhere. When my daughter is having issues with her diabetes, she will still go back to people she met at camp. She's 32 now," he says.
Many organizations and camps offer reduced fees for families under financial strain. And those not ready for the full sleep-away experience can explore weekend or day camps.
Click here for information on the Lilly Camp Care Package, an initiative to provide diabetes camps across the country with educational resources to help children learn to manage their type 1 diabetes.
Disclaimer: The experiences and suggestions recounted in these articles are not intended as medical advice, and they are not necessarily the "typical" experiences of families with a child who has type 1 diabetes. These situations are unique to the families depicted. Families should check with their healthcare professionals regarding the treatment of type 1 diabetes and the frequency of blood glucose monitoring.