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There are few kinds of diabetes education that are more beneficial for youth than diabetes camp. The “father of diabetes treatment,” Elliot P. Joslin, often referred to camps as “islands of safety for children with diabetes.”
A Place Where Kids With Diabetes Can Feel ‘Normal’
Diabetes camp is a place where kids are allowed to feel “normal.” They can hike, ski, rock climb and test freely because of the beautiful and strange camaraderie of their fellow diabetes friends.
One young man once told me that camp was his favorite place to be. He didn’t have to worry about the judgments of friends or answer questions about his diabetes.
At camp, everyone knows diabetes isn’t contagious.
There Is Probably a Diabetes Camp Near You
There are more than 160 diabetes camps across the country. Diabetes camps started within five years of the discovery of insulin. Visionaries like Leonard Wendt, MD, with his first residential camp for children with diabetes, and the Universalist women who started the Clara Barton Camp for girls with diabetes realized the need for an oasis for kids with chronic disease.
One of the oldest camps, celebrating 80 years, is Camp Joslin. I had my first Camp Joslin/Baron experience in the summer of 1999. I will never forget a question posed by one of the youngest campers: “Have you ever had a seizure?” The eager eyes waiting to make a connection, looking for another comrade, another partner, another friend with diabetes.
The answer was, “Yes.”
Since then, I have returned to Camp Joslin/Baron to see some campers turn into counselors and even caregivers.
Many Different Types of Camps
I recently visited another type of camp: family camp. A camp for families touched by diabetes, where they can come together to share, cry, laugh and strategize. How refreshing to watch parents sharing their fears; kids talking over pizza and parties; and siblings discussing a condition that often takes over a family.
Fran Kaufman, MD, former president of the ADA, is no stranger to diabetes camp. She has been involved in the camps for more than 20 years.
“Camp validates that there is no shame or blame attached to diabetes. It forces youth to realize they can control their diabetes; diabetes doesn’t have to control them,” says Kaufman.
A Great Gift for Your Child with Diabetes
The American Camping Association just completed a three-year study analyzing the benefits of camp in general. Campers said they make new friends easier after camp; that camp helped them feel better about themselves; and that they are more adventurous at camp.
If there is a gift you could give a child with diabetes, sans the cure, I would suggest it would be the experience of camp, no matter the child’s age.
May 1, 2005
Diabetes Health is the essential resource for people living with diabetes- both newly diagnosed and experienced as well as the professionals who care for them. We provide balanced expert news and information on living healthfully with diabetes. Each issue includes cutting-edge editorial coverage of new products, research, treatment options, and meaningful lifestyle issues.