Diabetes Summer Camps for Kids Educate, Empower and Inspire

Living with diabetes is not easy for anyone, but it’s especially difficult for children who are supposed to be focused on school, sports and friends. But each summer, there’s a popular camp option for kids with diabetes, where they can have fun while monitoring their condition.

Diabetes camps held by the American Diabetes Association (ADA) are for children dealing with this disease. These camps provide a fun and worthwhile way for kids to learn about diabetes from each other and experts. There are day camp options for younger children and sleep-away programs for older kids and teens, ages seven to 18. The camps are a community in themselves.

Dr. Dana Hardin, medical director and pediatric endocrinologist [en-doh-cri-NA-lo-jist] at Lilly Diabetes, has spent many summers volunteering at the camps since 1982. She said kids learn to manage their condition at the camps and develop friendships with others who are facing the same issues.

“It is often difficult for children to adjust to managing their diabetes, but it’s important for them to know that they are not alone,” said Dr. Hardin. “Diabetes camps are a great way for children to relate to others of the same age who have the same chronic disease and can share similar experiences.”

Kids learn to administer insulin on their own, and monitor and log their sugar levels and log their blood glucose levels. They also get to participate in a variety of activities that they wouldn’t get a chance to do during a school year.

Dr. Hardin says that children with chronic illnesses tend to rely on their parents or guardian more, and that an experience away from home can really help them become more confident about managing diabetes on their own. As a parent, it can be very frightening to send a child to camp. Dr. Hardin recognizes that there is a fine balance between self-management and parental management of diabetes. For many, the first time children or teens will make significant decisions on their own is at camp.

“What I would want parents to know is that their children are in good hands with professionals around the clock. It will help parents and children become more confident for their future when it comes to sleepovers, traveling or going away to college,” said Dr. Hardin. “To let these children go to these camps is to allow them to spread their wings.” Parents also benefit from the camps by being able to connect with other parents who have a child with diabetes.

Another great reason for attending a diabetes camp is that kids and teens get a chance to talk to and spend time with a doctor in a casual setting as compared to a doctor’s office, where time can be limited. Dr. Hardin says kids and teens feel more confident and are more inclined to express their needs and concerns about diabetes when they are in a fun environment.

Dr. Hardin has identified three key takeaways kids get from the diabetes camp experience:

  • Social opportunity – these camps give children and teens with diabetes the opportunity to make vital connections and lifelong friendships.
  • Education – the camps help children about how to manage their diabetes and learn how to be independent.
  • Physical opportunity – camps give kids with diabetes the opportunity to be active in a safe environment, which helps build confidence.

Providing camps for kids with diabetes is written into the ADA’s original charter. The Association has held diabetes camps for 70 years. There are 40 camps in 25 different states, providing a total of 50 sessions, each serving a new group of children.