Summer camp for all

Children with special health care needs thrive at camp with the right supports

Summer camps provide wonderful opportunities for fun and enrichment. All children have the potential to benefit emotionally and physically from being outdoors, playing and socializing. These experiences help them develop the skills needed to become well-balanced children and later on, adults.

Children with complex care needs, such as diabetes, heart conditions and neurological issues, also benefit from camp because it gives them a chance to connect with others who share similar experiences.

There are many opportunities around the state for children with special health care needs — sometimes with supports within a traditional camp or at a camp designed for particular health issues.

Diabetes camps, for example, offer education about coping strategies and community building. Having a special health care need can feel isolating, so building connections with similar children can be rewarding.

Pediatric cardiologist David Crowley, MD, one of my Dartmouth-Hitchcock Manchester colleagues, volunteers at Camp Meridian, a camp for kids with congenital heart disease.

While many children talk about feeling lonely, “when they arrive at camp, they find not just one someone, but many someones who have traveled a similar path,” said Dr. Crowley. “They say things like, ‘Wow, I had no idea there were so many other heart kids!’”

Tom Johnson, MD, another pediatric cardiologist at D-H Manchester, recently wrote to me: “After watching their children go through heart surgery, many parents are left feeling that their kids are more vulnerable than their peers. They tend to shelter their children, which can lead to a false sense of vulnerability, low expectations and sometimes anxiety for the affected child. Summer camps that are designed to accommodate kids with special health care needs allow these children to broaden their physical and social experience in a safe and age-appropriate way. Almost always, the children are delighted to have more autonomy and independence, and parents are often amazed at what a happy and sometimes transformative experience it can be for their kids.”

Regardless of the camp you choose, it’s important to find out if a particular camp can handle your child’s needs. Speak with the camp director and have a health summary from your child’s primary care providers or specialists about your child’s needs and their concerns.

With the correct preparation, summer camps foster a sense of independence, allow children to be social and engage in physical fitness. Children discover activities they didn’t know they could do — like swimming or rock climbing.

There’s nothing better than a child who says, “Hey, if I can do it at camp, I can do it at home.” It’s all about broadening their horizons and learning what they are capable of.

For more information on summer camps, go to ParentingNH’s summer camp guide online:

Erik M. Shessler, MD, is the Chair of General Pediatrics and Associate Medical Director of Dartmouth-Hitchcock Manchester and Chair of CHaD Primary Care Pediatrics Committee.


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