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Are There Summer Camps For Kids With Celiac Disease?

Camp Sign

Children and teenagers with celiac disease, like their friends without celiac disease, often enjoy summer camp if they get the opportunity to go. The difficulty is finding a camp that can promise to offer a gluten-free diet. As it turns out, however, there now are camps committed to a gluten-free diet. This allows campers to enjoy the experience without having any worries about the food. As opposed to what may happen at school, or with other children, the campers at a gluten-free camp are all on the same diet and all feel “normal.”

More and more camping organizations are adding gluten-free sessions. Some camps are only for children on the gluten-free diet. Others are scheduled during specific weeks at a camp that operates for all campers the rest of the summer.

Potential campers have to be well enough to participate in the activities, like swimming and hiking and sports, along with other more quiet pursuits. They can eat as much as they want of any and all of the food at the camp. Younger campers can see the teenagers with CD, and perhaps get some ideas and tips about living with the disease. They may also just be happy to see so many people like themselves.

Gluten-free camps are such a good idea that they are even being studied. One research group looked at a week-long camp, and used surveys to assess the participants’ feelings and their quality of life at the beginning and end of the camp. The camp was in California, and the participants were 7 to 17 years old. They were given questionnaires developed specifically for this purpose at the beginning and end of camp.

Seventy-seven campers (21 male and 56 female) completed both questionnaires. There was an improvement in 11 out of the 14 question areas, with 8 of the 11 statistically significant. There were three general categories of questions where improvement was evident. These included emotional outlook, self-perception, and well-being. Examples of questions were if a participant “felt different from other kids because of CD,” or “felt embarrassed because you had to bring your food to a meal.” The answers to both of these questions showed improvement after the week at camp.

Participants who had been on a gluten-free diet for 4 years or more before attending camp showed less improvement than those on the diet for less than 4 years. Those who had been on the diet longer had more positive scores at the beginning. The researchers believe that over time, the children with CD may have already learned to cope better with the diet and may have become more used to being “different.”

Camps for children with celiac disease seem to be increasing in number. An internet search can tell you about places all over the country. Here are a couple of examples:

•    Camp Celiac is a gluten-free camp in Northern California near in San Francisco.
It has been operating for six years, and there are two sessions, July or August 2012. Registration opens February 1st 2012. The camp is for children ages 9 to 17. Those 15 to 17 can volunteer to be junior counselors. Most of the cost of this camp is covered by donations.

•    Camp Waluhili, in Oklahoma, has a gluten-free food resident camp, once in June.

•    Camp Celiac in one week long, for children and teenagers ages 8 to 16 years, in Rhode Island. It is a private camp, although there are some scholarships available. It is the largest camp in the country, and has been welcoming campers with celiac disease since 2000. Forms should be available February 1, 2012.

You can find others by searching. In the future, there will be probably be more choices. Since some of these camps are maintained by donations, it is worth looking into even if you don’t have the money yourself, if you have a child who might benefit from the experience.  Start looking early, soon after the beginning of the year for that summer.

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