By: Nicole Johnson
There are few kinds of diabetes educationthat are more beneficial for youth thandiabetes camp. The “father of diabetestreatment,” Elliot P. Joslin, often referred tocamps as “islands of safety for children withdiabetes.”
A Place Where Kids With Diabetes CanFeel ‘Normal’
Diabetes camp is a place where kids areallowed to feel “normal.” They can hike, ski,rock climb and test freely because of thebeautiful and strange camaraderie of theirfellow diabetes friends.
One young man once told me that campwas his favorite place to be. He didn’t haveto worry about the judgments of friends oranswer questions about his diabetes.
At camp, everyone knowsdiabetes isn’t contagious.
There Is Probably a Diabetes Camp Near You
There are more than 160diabetes camps across thecountry. Diabetes campsstarted within five yearsof the discovery of insulin.Visionaries like LeonardWendt, MD, with his firstresidential camp for childrenwith diabetes, and theUniversalist women whostarted the Clara BartonCamp for girls with diabetesrealized the need for an oasisfor kids with chronic disease.
One of the oldest camps,celebrating 80 years, is Camp Joslin. I hadmy first Camp Joslin/Baron experience inthe summer of 1999. I will never forget aquestion posed by one of the youngestcampers: “Have you ever had a seizure?” Theeager eyes waiting to make a connection,looking for another comrade, anotherpartner, another friend with diabetes.
The answer was, “Yes.”
Since then, I have returned to Camp Joslin/Baron to see some campers turn intocounselors and even caregivers.
Many Different Types of Camps
I recently visited another type of camp:family camp. A camp for families touchedby diabetes, where they can come togetherto share, cry, laugh and strategize. Howrefreshing to watch parents sharing theirfears; kids talking over pizza and parties; andsiblings discussing a condition that oftentakes over a family.
Fran Kaufman, MD, former president of theADA, is no stranger to diabetes camp. Shehas been involved in the camps for morethan 20 years.
“Camp validates that there is no shame orblame attached to diabetes. It forces youthto realize they can control their diabetes;diabetes doesn’t have to control them,” saysKaufman.
A Great Gift for Your Child withDiabetes
The American Camping Association justcompleted a three-year study analyzingthe benefits of camp in general. Camperssaid they make new friends easier aftercamp; that camp helped them feel betterabout themselves; and that they are moreadventurous at camp.
If there is a gift you could give a child withdiabetes, sans the cure, I would suggest itwould be the experience of camp, no matterthe child’s age.