By Carrie Johnson Weimar • Published: July 2nd, 2008
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

When you think of summer camp, most people picture children splashing in a swimming pool, making crafts or sitting around a campfire. But at one particular type of camp, you’re more likely to find youngsters slicing open a cow’s heart, learning about Tourette’s syndrome or discussing epileptic seizures.

Summer camps for children with chronic illnesses are booming. And experts say the camps might do more than just provide summertime fun. They could have lasting therapeutic value.

Special-needs camps began popping up in the 1970s, mostly for children with cerebral palsy and cancer. Today, the variety is astounding. There are more than one-hundred-thirty camps for asthma sufferers, and dozens for diseases such as muscular dystrophy and diabetes.

Many of the camps were launched by children’s hospitals and offer education in the form of classes led by doctors and nurses, who are more likely to be wearing shorts and T-shirts than scrubs. This promotes bonding between patients and medical staff, experts say.

But, like all summer camps, it’s also an opportunity for fun. For example, the Learning Camp in Vail, Colorado, is targeted toward children with Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism. The camp offers everything from canoeing to rock climbing. Camp Boggy Creek in Eustis, Florida, is for children with epilepsy. It offers horseback riding, a ropes course and painting classes, among others.

The camps also offer children with chronic illnesses a chance to bond with one another, a place to make friends and experience a rite of passage together.