Choosing a summer camp can be a challenge. Consider the following questions to help you start this process. Start by thinking about why you want to send your child to camp and what your child wants.
What is your primary goal?
- If your main goals for sending your child to camp include wanting him or her to be with other children with epilepsy or learn to cope with seizures better, then consider a camp for children with epilepsy.
- If you want your child to be safe, develop a special talent or skill, and build self-confidence, you don’t really need to send her to an epilepsy-specific camp. Look at other camps that have character building curriculums and the types of activities that your child likes.
- Once you find the right kind of camp, you’ll want to make sure they can handle seizures safely.
-Megan, age 13
What does your child want?
- If your child has never tried an outdoor camp that has a variety of activities, consider this before choosing a specialty camp. Outdoor camps are great at helping kids try new things, build self-confidence, make new friends, and learn about the world around them.
- However, if your child really wants to develop specific athletic skills, then explore sports camps. If her passion is more focused into science, music or drama, consider camps or programs designed around those interests.
Is your child ready for over-night camp? Are you ready to let her go?
- If your child has not gone to camp before or is nervous about going, start with a day camp. It may help her get used to the camp experience first.
- Consider her seizure type and frequency and how this may be affected by overnight camp. For example, if your child’s seizures occur only at night or when sleep-deprived, make sure you work with the camp staff so they can manage seizures appropriately. If in doubt, starting with a day camp may be the best solution.
How well does your child adapt to new situations?
- If your child has trouble with new situations and has never attended camp before, a day program may be the way to start.
- See if she can attend sessions or camps with a friend. While ideally you want your child to make new friends, going with a buddy may make the transition and separation a lot easier.
What triggers your child’s seizures?
- If sleep deprivation is a major trigger, consider a day program, or work carefully with your child and the camp counselors to prevent sleep deprivation at an over-night camp.
- If stress is a trigger, start slowly with a day camp or make sure you and your child attend camp orientation – this will make the transition less stressful for everyone.
- Share a list of your child’s triggers and how they are managed with the camp staff ahead of time. If you aren’t sure about triggers, talk about these with your child’s doctor or nurse. It may help you know what to look for and what to do.
What safety issues are you worried about?
- Parents often worry about what will happen if seizures occur at camp. Review your list of safety concerns with your child’s doctor or nurse to find out how realistic these are.
- Use this information as you consider what type of camp your child should attend or what safety precautions may be needed.
- Look at Staying Safe at Camp for more information.
How is your child coping with epilepsy?
- If your child has difficulty talking about or coping with seizures, a camp for kids with seizures may be just the right setting.
- If seizures aren’t a big problem, let him choose the camp based on primary interests and comfort level.
- Keep in mind that even children whose seizures are well-controlled can benefit from giving and getting help from others in similar situations.
How are you coping?
- Seizures affect everyone in the family, including parents! It’s important to look at how you are coping and what worries or concerns you may have.
- Children can easily pick up on their parent’s anxiety, which can make the camping experiences more difficult for them.
- Look at how the camp staff communicates with parents and how they deal with homesickness, separation or medical problems that arise.
Do you have a plan on how to manage your child’s seizures?
- Letting camp staff know about your child’s seizures and how to respond is crucial – not only will this help staff to manage routine seizure issues, it can also help them be prepared to prevent seizure emergencies.
- Make sure you've developed a seizure response plan and update this before your child goes off to camp. Then read about Preparing Camp Staff for Seizure Management.
Is your child’s epilepsy team supportive of having your child attend camp?
- Having support from your child’s health care team can make all the difference in the world.
- Schedule a meeting as soon as you can with your child's doctor to review plans, seek input on medical treatment and safety concerns while at camp.
- Allow plenty of time to get camp forms completed.
Is cost a factor?
- Overnight and specialty camps can be quite expensive. However, scholarships might be available locally, through the Epilepsy Foundation affiliates and private foundations. Or look into camping programs sponsored by organizations you attend. For example camps sponsored by YMCAs, churches, and Boy and Girl Scouts are usually more affordable for members.
Your answers to these questions will help you know where to start in choosing a camp for your child. Hopefully, they will also highlight other areas to look into and help you prepare for your child’s summer fun.
While the focus of this section is helping your child succeed at summer camp, don’t forget to pay attention to your own needs and those of the rest of the family. Consider how you can make summer time fun for all and take advantage of the respite time that camps offer parents.