Summer Camp for Children with Diabetes: What You Should Know

You might think that a child with diabetes has to go to a special diabetes summer camp. That’s an option, of course, but luckily, thanks to the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, every municipality-run and private summer camp must be accessible to all children.

In terms of a child with T1D, this means summer camps are legally required to train one or more members of staff in diabetes care and emergency care. And just like they are expected to provide children with food allergies with appropriate meals, camp organizers must also provide slow-carb meals for summer campers with diabetes.

This opens up a whole world of summer camp fun for practically any child. But what’s the best choice for your child?

Is a diabetes-specific summer camp a better choice than a summer camp that’s open to all children? And what should you know before your child leaves for camp?

Benefits of Diabetes Summer Camp

The decision to send your child either to a diabetes summer camp or to one where your child might be the only one with diabetes is a very personal choice.

It makes sense that the closer a child is to diabetes diagnosis, the better it is to select a summer camp for kids with diabetes. Those first stages of denial and fear, and learning to carb count, adjust for exercise, and inject, aren’t easy. Spending time with other kids with the same challenges is going to help, whether your child agrees or not. 

At a diabetes summer camp, all staff members who work directly with the children are trained in diabetes and related emergency medical care. But these diabetes-friendly camps make it very obvious that diabetes doesn’t take center stage. 

Attention is certainly given to medical needs and menus, but the emphasis is placed on enjoying every activity and living in the moment. In the diabetic child’s world where ‘don’t’ and ‘can’t’ are way too common, the diabetic summer camp experience can provide a huge sense of relief, and a lot of fun!

Addressing Your Fears

A diabetes summer camp is often the choice of the caring adult, as it provides peace of mind. Caretakers and parents of children with diabetes can hand over a huge degree of responsibility for a week or two. 

Fears of hypos or ketoacidosis might mean they rule out standard summer camps, even with the safety net of the Americans with Disabilities Act. But by only considering diabetes summer camps, are you only focusing on diabetic limitations? 

Your child’s sense of responsibility might be very different when away from home, for the better or perhaps for the worse. Your child’s choice of summer camp might mean a crash course in confronting your fears and concerns. In fact, any summer camp experience can be a source of growth for both child and parent(s).

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How to Find Diabetes Summer Camps

We’ve compiled a list of overnight diabetes summer camps by state, so feel free to browse the list and find the summer camp closest to you.

There are lots of summer camps to choose from and most American PWD websites also list regional, sometimes national, and (occasionally) international camps. Not all sites provide filters, so you might have to scroll for a few hours to find a camp that fits your child’s wish list and your budget.

International diabetes summer camps? That’s right. European and post-Brexit UK Equality Acts also expect standard camps to provide trained staff and menus for children with diabetes. There’s no reason you can’t send your child to summer camp in France if they speak French, for example. 

For other countries, standards vary. Get around this potential worry by looking for local organizations that provide summer camps overseas.

When searching for the best diabetes summer camp for your child, think about how far you’re willing to travel, whether friends or family members are also welcome, what activities are most important to your child, and which skills they might want to improve (if any). 

While most of us think of summer camp as the big outdoors, some kids might want to focus on computer programming or cooking, for example. There’s so much choice out there!

Packing List for Diabetes Summer Camp

Your child’s summer camp packing list won’t be very different from any other child’s list. The only additions are your child’s diabetes medication, medication delivery device, and glucose monitoring system equipment.

Even a summer camp for T1D has limited medical materials – all children are expected to bring extra supplies in case of loss or breakage. Like one or more continuous glucose monitoring sensors, a backup lancing device if the sensor reader fails, and additional insulin. A replacement insulin pump is probably going overboard, but bringing double the usual amount of diabetes supplies is a good rule of thumb.

All summer camps in the US will have a spare fridge compartment available for insulin storage (a diabetes summer camp will probably have a whole fridge). 

Because outdoor activities are always part of summer camp season, it’s a good idea to buy waterproof (and sweatproof) adhesive patches for CGM sensors and insulin pump infusion sets.

Finally, pack glucose gels or tabs, or a carton of juice for the journey to and from camp.

Here’s the diabetes packing list for camp:

  • Diabetes medication
  • Extra CGM sensors
  • Backup lancing device
  • Extra insulin
  • Waterproof adhesive patches
  • Glucose gels or tablets and/or carton of juice for the trip

Tips for Parents of Children at Camp

Summer camp is fun! And letting your child with diabetes discover independence in a fun-based, understanding social environment can help your child succeed in diabetes management. 

1. Give Your Child Some Room

A child with diabetes will grow into adulthood and be expected to take full responsibility for blood sugar control. However, as much as we want to protect them, keeping our children close 24/7 doesn’t allow them to take that responsibility.

Sending your child off to summer camp with a loving hug and ‘Have a great time!’ is a loving push towards self-care. You don’t need to check in all the time. In fact, you’re likely to get a message from your child if things aren’t going too well. So, try to sit back and relax, as hard as that may be.

2. Use Gluroo

If you want some extra peace of mind when your child is away, you can use Gluroo

Gluroo is a collaborative diabetes management app that allows a “GluCrew” of caretakers to be connected and aware of your child’s real-time BGL levels, wherever they’re located.

It offers smart alerts that allow the person with diabetes to act first, and only if no action is taken, do these alerts then escalate to the rest of the “GluCrew”. Gluroo helps your child take responsibility for their condition before you step in.

Gluroo also lets your child log meals, exercise, open insulin vials, and it connects with insulin pumps and CGMs.

You can get Gluroo for free today!

Install Gluroo from Apple App Store
Install Gluroo from Google Play Store
A screenshot of Gluroo where a parent sees a child respond to their own low blood sugar event by eating a snack.

Tips for Using Gluroo at Summer Camps

Before your child leaves for camp, get comfortable with the app! Pair CGMs and pumps to Gluroo to provide you with peace of mind at a distance. It’s much easier to set these up while your child is at home.

Once you have everything connected, you’ll be able to see your child’s CGM readings, pump data, carbs and insulin on board, and more. All of this synchronizes in real time on your phone, your partners phone, or whoever else you may want to have access to that data. You could even invite a camp staff member, if they have the bandwidth (no pun intended) for it!

From there, using Gluroo is as simple as messaging. When your child is away, you’ll be able to know at a glance that everything is going smoothly. If you notice things are not going smoothly (a missed bolus, a low event that isn’t treated, etc.), you can at-reference (“@”) your child and get their attention.

In the above screenshot, you can see an instance of this where the child has low blood sugar. They are able to correct it themselves by eating a starburst candy. Their mom sees all of this and gives the thumbs up – no parental intervention needed, just positive feedback!

You may worry about handling these types of emergency situations. Gluroo can help you understand exactly what is going on with your child and make more educated decisions about when to escalate to the camp staff for help. It’s worth remembering that if your child is at a diabetes camp, the staff will be very qualified to help your child.

3. Read & Share Experiences

Most diabetes forums include one or more threads about camp experiences. Post your own concerns to receive helpful tips. Once your child has returned from their first diabetes summer camp, use your new knowledge to help others. Word-of-mouth recommendations really count.

Here’s a list of 10 support forums for parents of children with type 1 diabetes.

Ready to Let Your Child Spend Some Time Away?

By now, you should be ready to let your child with diabetes fly the nest – if only for a week or two. Summer camp is an integral part of American culture and an exciting starting point for independence. 

While it’s advisable for newly-diagnosed kids with T1D to start with a diabetes summer camp experience, once they know about the ins and outs of blood sugar control the sky’s the limit! And, when ready, they may also enjoy non-diabetes summer camp where they can enjoy themselves without the focus being so much on diabetes.

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