In less than a year's time, Maya Krowiak will leave the familiar routine, spaces and faces of high school – and perhaps even move away from her family home in Mississauga, Ont. – to start life as a university student.
Wherever her studies take her, Ms. Krowiak, who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when she was eight years old, says she's ready to take the transitional step from teenage years to adulthood.
“I'm super comfortable with my diabetes,” says the 17-year- old, who plans to become a nurse. “I've been basically doing everything to manage my diabetes – like testing my blood sugar and carb counting – on my own for some time now.”
Ms. Krowiak attributes her confidence and independence largely to the summer camps she's been attending since she was 10 years old. Launched by the Canadian Diabetes Association (CDA) in 1953, D-Camps help children and teens gain confidence in their ability to manage their type 1 diabetes. Offered at 12 sites across the country, D-Camps combine an authentic camp experience – with activities such as canoeing, hiking and singing around the campfire – with type 1 diabetes education. Kids learn, for example, why they need to take a certain dose of insulin before a particular activity. They are also taught to administer their own insulin, a vital skill in diabetes management.
Andrew Young, the CDA’s executive director of programs, services and partnerships, points to another important benefit of D-Camps: meeting other young people with type 1 diabetes.
“Often kids with type 1 diabetes are the only ones in their school or community living with this disease,” says Mr. Young. “At camp, they meet other kids who are in similar situations and form friendships that carry over when they're back in their own communities.”
Ms. Krowiak agrees. She says meeting other kids with type 1 diabetes helped her grow up without feeling self-conscious or embarrassed about her disease. This confidence was especially helpful as she moved from childhood to her teenage years.
“While supporting the transition from child to teen is important, it’s also critical to ensure that teens with type 1 diabetes are well equipped to enter adulthood,” says Mr. Young. With this in mind, the CDA also began offering two streams of leadership options for teens – Leadership Development Programs in the summer, and D-Tour, a weekend youth retreat.
“Any teen who transitions into adulthood goes through a whole series of life changes, and when you overlay type 1 diabetes on those life changes, it just adds to the normal pressures of becoming an adult,” says Mr. Young. “With our leadership programs, teens develop life and leadership skills, which may help them to make good decisions in life, especially the ones pertaining to their health.”