Camps for children with disabilities or life-threatening illnesses can provide fantastic social and self-affirming opportunities for campers that just can’t be matched outside of camp — and this can be a problem, found Indiana University researchers.
At Camp Riley, held each summer at the IU School of Public Health-Bloomington’s Bradford Woods outdoor center in partnership with the sponsoring organization Riley Children’s Foundation, campers can interact daily with other “camp war buddies,” as they call each other, as they take on various challenges, including wheelchair races, ropes courses and swimming goals.
“The social interaction of the kids with other kids with the same disabilities provides enormous support,” said Dr. Doug Knapp, associate professor in the School of Public Health. “Kids with terminal cancer can say, ‘Yes, I’ve got that,’ and they can talk about it like any normal thing. The kids can’t even get this with their family.”
Dr. Knapp’s study, “Examining Perceptions of Social Acceptance and Quality of Life of Pediatric Campers with Physical Disabilities” was published in the journal Children’s Health Care.
For the study, researchers asked campers and their families to fill out a questionnaire before and immediately following their one-week stay at Camp Riley; researchers followed up with campers three to seven months later for more feedback. Many campers, they found, expressed frustration about the lack of similar activities and experiences in their home communities.