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Preparing your Gluten Intolerant Child for Summer Camp

Journal of Gluten Sensitivity Summer 2013 Issue


Image: CC--Jónatas Luzia

Celiac.com 03/08/2017 - With summer coming soon, many parents want their child to experience summer camp. If your child has gluten intolerance (and/or other special dietary needs) the summer camp anticipation and experience itself can be anxiety provoking for you, and for your child. As a parent, it is normal to have concerns about sending your child to camp, of course, particularly when the camp is providing meals. Here are some simple tips to help you advocate for your gluten intolerant child, and keep him/her safe at camp this summer. Not only should parents be their child's advocate - parents also need to teach their child how to be a well educated self advocate. Many of these tips are also applicable to school settings, birthday parties and other social gatherings.

Prior to each camp session, schedule a meeting with your child's supervising camp staff to discuss your child's dietary needs. Be very clear about what your child can and can't tolerate, as well as the short-term and long-term consequences of consumption of those foods. Bring copies of helpful facts and information, and even myths to educate the staff. You can also bring helpful books and/or videos to share. Any notes from your child's health professionals may be helpful as well. Let the staff know you mean business and you take your child's needs very seriously. Your child should never be turned away from a camp due to their dietary needs. That would be a conflict of the Human Rights Code!

Request that your child's camp staff post an educational fact sheet in the camp office, staffroom, and main rooms in the camp building about his/her dietary needs and condition (e.g., celiac disease), as well as a list of foods that your child must avoid.

Get a medical alert bracelet for your child, and list your child's condition(s) (e.g.,. celiac disease), as well as your child's dietary needs clearly (e.g., gluten intolerant). Allerbling.com is a great resource and they offer fun colors and patterns.

Ask the camp staff if you can come into the camp one day and have a discussion with the campers about your child's condition/food intolerance. You can even find out if you can bring in props, such as products your child is and is not allowed. You might want to bring in a short video about celiac disease and the gluten-free diet.

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Find out if there will be birthdays being celebrated at camp, and then contact the parents of the birthday child the week before, and again the day before the birthday party to inform and remind them about your child's food intolerance. You could also offer to bring treats that your child is allowed.

Send some "back up" snacks and treats for your child for camp staff to store, even if it's a package of cookies, or a cupcake – just in case there are celebrations or times when treats are given out that your child cannot have.

Teach your child about his/her food intolerance, and teach your child to share the information with others. It is a good idea for your child to learn how to self-advocate at a young age. If your child is very young, you can teach through the use of puppets. Research shows that young children learn very well through the use of puppets.

Many non-profit associations offer camps, support groups and educational programs for children. Gather information from trusted organizations such as the Canadian Celiac Association or the Celiac Sprue Association.

Be positive – learn to look on the bright side, and teach your child to do so as well. There are many advantages to living gluten-free. Keeping positive and demonstrating strength will make your child stronger and better able to cope. Remind your child regularly that their differences are what make them special!

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