3 Summer Camps for Kids with Celiac Disease
Children and teenagers with celiac disease (also known as gluten intolerance) often enjoy summer camp if they get the opportunity to go, just like their friends without celiac disease. The difficulty lies in finding a camp that can promise to offer a gluten-free diet. As it turns out, there now are camps committed to a gluten-free diet. This allows campers to enjoy the experience of summer camp without worrying about the food. Campers at a gluten-free camp are all on the same diet and can feel “normal,” as opposed to school or social activities where they may have to bring their own food.
More and more camping organizations are adding gluten-free sessions to their schedules. Some camps are exclusively for children on a gluten-free diet. Others are scheduled during specific weeks at a camp that operates for all types of campers the rest of the summer.
Potential campers have to be well enough to participate in outdoor activities, like swimming, hiking, and sports, along with other, quieter pursuits. They can eat as much as they want of any and all of the foods available at the camp. Younger campers may see teenagers with CD and 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 used in scientific studies. One research group looked at a weeklong camp and used surveys to assess the participants’ feelings and 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 study 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, and 8 of the 11 were 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 included whether the 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 four years or more before attending camp showed less improvement than those on the diet for less than four 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 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 San Francisco.
It has been operating for six years, and there are usually two sessions during the summer. The camp is for children ages 9 to 17. Those who are ages 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 is 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 to help with the cost. It is the largest gluten-free camp in the country, and has been welcoming campers with celiac disease since 2000.
You can find other gluten-free camps by searching. In the future, there will be probably be even more choices available. Because some of these camps are maintained by donations, they are 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.