By Dennis Pillion, PhD
Past Chair, Pediatric and Camping COI
The 2020 COVID-19 pandemic impacted many aspects of diabetes care for children, their parents and caregivers. Diabetes camp programs that provide multiple-day residential programs were faced with huge decisions early in the summer season. Cancellation of in-person camping programs was deemed the best available option by many camping organizations.
This decision created unprecedented financial losses for the camps and disrupted summer plans for campers, staff and parents. Children who usually attend camp missed recreational activities, renewed friendships with fellow campers, diabetes education, and exposure to the latest devices and improvements in care. Staff at many camps quickly adapted to the situation by creating vibrant online "virtual camp" experiences, including scavenger hunts, games, campfires, sing-alongs and diabetes education updates from trusted pediatric endocrinologists, nurses, pharmacists and nutritionists. While most children would have preferred to play in the lake or swimming pool, stay up late and enjoy a campfire with their friends or just have someone to talk to who understands their frustrations and anxieties, the virtual camp programs at least gave them a chance to get a taste of camp and whet their appetites for next year.
[Virtual camping programs] have opened the door of diabetes camping to a subset of children with type 1 diabetes who have never been to a camp in person.
Among the few silver linings in this year of disappointments, the online virtual camping programs and the lessons learned from this effort will likely be used to make future diabetes camping programs better. In addition, they have opened the door of diabetes camping to a subset of children with type 1 diabetes who have never been to a camp in person.
Some children, or their parents, had no desire to experience a camp program that involves separation, potential homesickness, the fear of the unknown, time spent outdoors, insecurities that they will not "fit in," and in some cases, inability to afford the cost of, or travel to, a camping program. For these children and their families, online virtual summer diabetes camp in 2020 was a new opportunity to discover the many benefits that accrue to children who attend camp. They met new friends, learned things about type 1 diabetes including glucose management, impact of exercise and utilization of devices that they have not used previously. Online camp also allowed them to engage in discussions of diabetes management and lifestyle adaptations with counselors and counselors-in-training who have "been in their shoes" and who serve as invaluable role models for successful diabetes management.
Across the United States, there are more than 130 camps specifically established for children with type 1 diabetes. To find a camp in your area and to learn about dates, times, locations and fees for a child to attend a virtual camp, or an in-person camp, check out the following organizations: the Diabetes Education and Camping Association (DECA) and the American Diabetes Association (ADA).
For over 20,000 children with type 1 diabetes who missed the opportunity to attend in-person camping programs in 2020, and for the many of you ADCES members who volunteer your time and talents to make camp possible, we can all look forward to next year!
ADCES Perspectives on Diabetes Care
The Association of Diabetes Care & Education Specialists Perspectives on Diabetes Care covers diabetes, prediabetes and other cardiometabolic conditions. Not all views expressed reflect the official position of the Association of Diabetes Care & Education Specialists.
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