When Your Bedwetting Preschooler Wants to Go to Summer Camp
There's no reason why disabled or special needs children dealing with bedwetting, also called enuresis, can't enjoy swimming, horseback riding and playing sports at a sleep-away summer camp.
At Camp Kodiak in McKellar, Ontario, Canada, where the majority of campers have either a learning disability (LD) or ADD/ADHD or both, counselors are more than prepared to handle wet beds. "There is a higher incidence of bedwetting in this population than there is in the general public," says David Stoch, owner and director of the camp, and so his counselors start dealing with issue long before the camper arrives at camp.
At Camp Kodiak, parents are asked on their registration form if their child is a bedwetter, how often they wet the bed and if they need to be awakened to use the restroom. Campers with a known problem are then put on a bottom bunk so they have an easier time getting up to use the restroom and counselors monitor the amount of fluid they drink before bedtime. Counselors also will wake the child up during the night to use the bathroom at a time recommended by the parents.
"If, in spite of our best efforts, Johnny still wets the bed, the situation is handled in a discreet and sensitive way," says Stoch. "Every morning we have a cabin inspection. As part of that inspection, the inspector puts his hand deep into every camper's bed looking for 'sand.' We're not really too concerned about sand; we're looking for wet beds. If we find one, nothing is said to the camper. The inspection is completed, the cabin receives its score, and everyone leaves for breakfast, except one counselor who stays behind to change the bed and deliver the sheets to the laundry. No one is the wiser."
Communication is Key
Pat Mejia of California is the mother of 15-year-old Nina, who has cerebral palsy, is deaf and has other disabilities. On occasion, Nina will wet her pants. So before sending her daughter to the Lion's Club sleep-away camp near Yosemite two years ago, Mejia called the executive director to communicate with him about her daughter's challenges.
"I called them six weeks before camp started,'' she says. "Then I stayed in constant communication, talking, e-mailing, faxing. I brought up everything.''
At first, Mejia thought she might have to send an aide to camp to help change her daughter's clothing, but after discussing it with the director, she felt that the counselors' assistance would be adequate.
The causes of bedwetting appear to be a controversial subject within the medical and psychological worlds. The National Kidney Foundation estimates that between five to seven million children between the ages of 6 and 12 in the United States are affected by enuresis. The foundation also says that 15 percent of the children will simply outgrow this problem, and that certain exercises, therapy, medication and behavior modification techniques such as moisture alarm bells will help.
But Barbara Moore, founder of the Enuresis Treatment Center in Michigan, believes that drugs, bells and other treatments won't work. Bedwetting is caused by an abnormal, inherited sleep pattern where the brain is in such a deep slumber that it can't wake the person up, and therefore, the bladder, to get up and go to the bathroom, she says.
While bladder exercises can help strengthen the underdeveloped muscles, she says, the real solution is to change the bedwetter's sleep pattern. That takes at least six months, she says. She adds that she has a 95 percent cure rate and sees between 300 to 400 bedwetters each year. Non-Michigan residents who can't attend the center can get treatment through verbal instructions available at www.drybed.com.
No Big Deal
As for children with disabilities, there are no studies showing that kids with physical problems wet their beds more than kids who don't have special needs, Moore says. And ironically, children without disabilities who wet their beds might have a harder time adjusting to camp than their peers with special needs.
Moore says most children she knows who don't have special needs simply refuse to go to camp because they're embarrassed. "The fear of discovery is so great that a lot of times kids don't go,'' she says. "They're simply so concerned that someone will find out.''
"Camp can be really tough for a youngster with a bedwetting problem," says Stoch. "It's embarrassing, especially if they get teased or scapegoated."
Children with more severe disabilities, however, often have other, more serious problems and bedwetting ranks lower on the list.
If children do want to go to camp and want to keep their bedwetting a secret, Moore suggests they secretly put on their disposable absorbent underpants in a sleeping bag when the lights are out so that no one can see. She also doesn't insist that children have to confide in their counselors about their problem. She says, "It's always best to listen to the child and how they feel about letting others know."Preparing for Camp
David Stoch, owner and director of Camp Kodiak in Ontario, Canada, where a majority of campers suffer from LD or ADD/ADHD, recommends parents considering sending their special needs, bedwetting youngster to camp do the following:
- Provide the camp with all of the pertinent information.
- Find out what the camp's procedures are regarding bedwetting.
- Get a commitment from the camp director that the situation will be handled as described.
- Speak directly with the camper's counselor before camp starts to ensure that the information has been passed on.
- Call at the beginning of camp to make sure that things are going well.