By Elizabeth Walsh, MD, assistant professor of Pediatric Endocrinology at Wake Forest Baptist Health Brenner Children’s Hospital
As a pediatric endocrinologist, I treat many children with diabetes. As part of my practice, I frequently discuss with parents the challenges of having a child with diabetes. Those of us who are close to kids affected by this disease wish people were more aware of a few important points.
1. There are different types of diabetes and different treatments.
Type 1 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes in kids. This is different from type 2 diabetes, which is more commonly seen in adults (although some children do develop type 2 diabetes). In addition, there are rare cases of genetic diabetes and steroid-induced diabetes. While type 1 diabetes is always managed with insulin, there are different insulin regimens including multiple daily injections and insulin pumps. Patients with type 2 diabetes can sometimes manage their conditions with insulin therapy, oral medications or diet. Ultimately, each child’s treatment plan is individualized to meet his or her particular health needs. It’s also important to note that kids and adults with diabetes often have different target blood sugar ranges—so you wouldn’t respond to their treatment needs in the same way.
2. Diabetes doesn’t discriminate.
Some people assume that kids with diabetes develop the disease because of poor lifestyle choices. Actually, the causes of type 1 diabetes—the most common type of the disease in children—are autoimmune-related. Unlike type 2 diabetes, type 1 appears to be unrelated to obesity. In addition, diabetes can affect kids of all ages, ethnic backgrounds and socio-economic levels.
3. Diabetes isn’t contagious.
A child can’t “catch” diabetes from another child who has the disease.
4. Please don’t refer to kids with diabetes as “diabetics.”
Children with diabetes shouldn’t be defined by their disease. They are regular kids who happen to have an endocrine disorder. Like other children, they can and should lead full, active lifestyles. For example, if a child with diabetes is on a soccer team, he or she wouldn’t want to be called “that diabetic kid on the soccer team.” He or she would prefer to be known as “the kid who makes a lot of goals” or “the kid who’s really great at blocks.”
5. Children with diabetes can participate in festivities.
There’s no need to leave children with diabetes off the guest list for a party. They can participate in the same activities as the other kids, and even enjoy a little bit of cake. Those kids or their parents may be counting carbohydrates or monitoring the amount of food consumed, but it doesn’t usually mean they have to stay away from sweet treats altogether. While children with diabetes can occasionally indulge, it’s still important to have some understanding of their general dietary constraints and to avoid putting them in unhealthy situations. The dietary plan for kids with diabetes is really the same dietary plan children without diabetes should follow—a variety of healthy foods.
6. Parents of children with diabetes are always on alert.
All parents work hard to protect and take care of their kids. However, parents of children with diabetes have additional struggles. These moms and dads (and other caregivers) work around the clock—even in the middle of the night sometimes—to make sure their child’s diabetes is managed effectively. This can be highly stressful, so a little empathy from other parents goes a long way. 7. Many children with diabetes are confident in their self-care.
If your kid has a friend with diabetes, don’t be afraid to invite that child to your house. Very young children with diabetes may need to have events at their own home where they can be supervised by a parent. But older kids will usually be okay in another person’s home. These kids are pretty self-aware of their blood sugars and are able to check their levels and let an adult know if they aren’t feeling well. So the best thing you can do around these children is to make sure they feel comfortable enough with you to speak up. Also, it’s a good idea to be sensitive to the fact that some kids with diabetes are private about their illness. While you need to be aware of a child’s condition if he or she is under your care, only inform others—such as the child’s other friends or classmates—on a need-to-know basis.
Are you a mom who has a child with diabetes? If so, what would you like others to know about the disease and how it impacts your child? Tell us in the comments below.
*Sponsored by Wake Forest Baptist Health Brenner Children’s Hospital and written by Elizabeth Walsh, MD