By Sandra Ramani
It’s a time-honored ritual enjoyed by kids and adolescents across the country: heading
out to a sleepaway summer camp for a week (or more) of reconnecting with nature, bonding with others, and trying activities that might take them outside their comfort zone. In recent decades, summer camps have evolved to cater to a variety of issues that children might face—including medical ones, ensuring that all kids have the opportunity to embark on this fun rite-of-passage experience.
At overnight camps geared toward kids with epilepsy, campers are cared for by trained counselors and adult volunteers, many of whom have epilepsy themselves—making them “great role models for the kids to see,” says Kelly Knupp, M.D., M.S.C.S., associate professor of pediatrics and neurology at the University of Colorado, who regularly works with epilepsy summer camps in her state. There are also medical professionals on site, and staff are trained to recognize and respond immediately to seizures. Camp schedules are also adjusted to allow for longer sleep periods and breaks during the day, as there’s often a link between fatigue and seizures.
Social benefits also abound. “Epilepsy only occurs in 1 to 2% of the population—and there are many types of epilepsy—so many children have not met someone else with epilepsy, let alone someone who has a similar type of seizures,” explains Dr. Knupp. As a result, being around other kids with similar conditions can have a meaningful social and emotional impact and help build confidence, as can being in a supportive environment that encourages participation in typical camp activities like climbing ropes, zip lining, swimming, rock climbing, and horseback riding. “As much as possible, there are few restrictions on activities,” notes Dr. Knupp.
When researching the best camp for a child with epilepsy, experts recommend that parents address any concerns with camp directors up front. This might include clarifying sleeping arrangements, asking how the camp will manage seizures and administer medication, and learning how activities will be managed for children with additional needs.
Most Epilepsy Foundation state affiliates provide partial or full scholarships for campers in need, and can also provide information on volunteering as a cabin counselor, medical staffer, or day volunteer. (Find your local Foundation center at www.epilepsy.com/affiliates.) Siblings may also be welcome to join.
Camps Across the Country
Find the camp closest to you by searching epilepsy.com or calling 800-332-1000.
Coelho Epilepsy Youth Camp (June 21-26) is open to kids 9-17.
The Jason Fleishman Summer Camp (June 27-July 1) takes place in Estes Park.
Camp Great Rock (June 29-July 5) offers sports, crafts, and a 1:2 staff-to-camper ratio.
Day and overnight camps with activities including horseback riding, sailing, and
camping for families. Epilepsynewengland.org
EpilepsyAdvocate Spring 2021.