With summer soon upon us, it is time to plan for summer diabetes camp. Whether you have a child eligible to attend, you are a health care provider interested in volunteering, or you have the ability to sponsor a camper or support camp in some other way, this is an opportunity that you should not miss. Many a camper has noted that while there aren't many benefits to having diabetes, diabetes camp is certainly one of them (see "ADA Camps Are a Home Away From Home"). It helps not only the children with diabetes but also their families, camp counselors, and medical providers.
For many children with diabetes, camp provides the only place where they don't "feel different." Some may not have a friend, classmate, or even anyone at the same school with diabetes. Camp lets them see others follow the same routines of monitoring blood glucose, counting carbohydrate grams, and administering insulin.
Camp also provides a chance to learn from potential role models and peers. Children who have lacked the confidence to poke their own fingers or give their own injections may find that others share their doubts and fears. The support of peers can have a tremendous impact on a child who feels vulnerable and isolated. The child who reluctantly attends camp for the first time is likely to return every year as a camper and later on as a counselor working with children facing the same fears that he or she did years earlier.
For many families, camp offers their only chance to take a "vacation" from diabetes, knowing that their children will be well supervised. It may be the only time that they can focus on other family members without worrying about diabetes. For children who are anxious about leaving home, there are weekend camps and family camps where parents, siblings, and friends are welcome. Some camps focus on sports such as baseball, basketball, and even snowboarding.
For health care providers, camp is the best instructional opportunity in type 1 diabetes management anywhere in their training. Camp orientation gives them the knowledge and skills to assist children with diabetes, and camp itself provides hands-on experience in diabetes care. Many providers are used to dealing with extreme circumstances such as diabetic ketoacidosis or feeling the time constraints of working with patients and their families at brief outpatient visits. In contrast, camp provides the best appreciation of living with diabetes during everyday activities. Volunteer providers at camp develop a far better ability to empathize with patients.
I have been an active supporter of diabetes camp for over 20 years. A tremendous amount of preparation goes into making camp safe and memorable. Yes, volunteering at camp guarantees you some sleepless nights. But, at the end of the session, you always find yourself planning for the next one. So get your applications in, pack your gear, and get ready for an amazing experience.