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Challenges of parenting a child with diabetes

Sherri Kuhn writes about raising teenagers, the perils of a clean home, wistfulness over babies, and anything else that makes her laugh (or cry) in the years between changing diapers and wearing them. With a son just starting college and...

November is National Diabetes Month

A diagnosis of diabetes changes everything — for both the patient and her family. For parents of newly diagnosed children, diabetes presents a host of challenges that can feel overwhelming at first.

Managing the treatment of diabetes when your child is home can be challenging enough, but what about when she is at school?

When your child is diagnosed with diabetes, there is a lot to learn about managing the disease. The sheer amount of information and training parents need to manage their child’s treatment is daunting. With approximately one out of every 400 children now affected by diabetes, chances are high that you will know a child who is diagnosed.

Check out these tips for diabetes awareness >>

Type 1 or type 2?

Type 1 diabetes occurs when the body’s own immune system destroys the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas. Without insulin available, blood sugar levels can rise and eventually cause damage to nerves and small blood vessels. Type 1 diabetes is most commonly diagnosed in people under the age of 20, but can arise at any age. This is the least common type of diabetes — affecting only about 5 percent of people diagnosed with the disease.

In type 2 diabetes patients, the body produces insulin, but either there is not enough insulin or their body doesn’t use it properly. This is called insulin resistance. About 90 to 95 percent of the 26 million Americans with diabetes have been diagnosed with type 2.

New site for parents

Sending your diabetic child back to school
can be stressful, especially when he is newly diagnosed. Disney — in collaboration with Lilly Diabetes — has created an informative site about type 1 diabetes that serves as a resource for parents and kids who are dealing with a diagnosis. This family-friendly site is a place with helpful resources, educational information and practical day-to-day advice about managing and living with type 1 diabetes. With careful planning and collaboration, parents can educate other adults who will be involved with their child on a daily basis so that they become part of the diabetes management team.

How it affects kids

Kirsten Schull is the mother of six children who have been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. She knows first-hand what difficulties children face when dealing with diabetes at school. “They go off to school every day, and they have to deal with it in their own way,” Schull shares. “A little child deals with it much differently than a 16-year-old. I have college-aged kids with it [type 1 diabetes] and it’s a challenge no matter what grade they are in.” She has partnered with Lilly Diabetes to provide information and tips to other parents who are learning to deal with the disease. “The Disney site is really helpful because I think parents feel isolated too, and they feel like they are alone facing this challenge,” she says. “There is a real sense of community on the site, and that community is really important for parents.”

The diagnosis can leave kids feeling like they no longer have control over their lives. “It makes the child feel that he’s never going to be normal again,” says Schull. “It’s true — he’s never going to have the same freedom that he did before. From that moment on, he’s never going to have his food un-monitored, his lifestyle un-monitored. Somebody’s going to be watching over him all the time until he’s an adult. It’s a difficult thing to adjust to.“

Tips for managing treatment

Teresa Pearson, M.S., R.N., C.D.E., F.A.A.D.E., is a certified diabetes educator and nurse. Her recent presentation at the American Association of Diabetes Educators (AADE) meeting focused on the following recommendations in several key areas where parents often need additional information to properly manage their child’s diabetes.

  • A recent study by the AADE has found that children experience more discomfort with injection than adults. Fear of pain and the sight of a needle can sometimes present challenges with insulin delivery. The use of new insulin injection options with a smaller needle can help to ease discomfort by reducing pain and calming injection fears.
  • Parents should help children to practice injecting, which could include injecting saline into a stuffed animal or another person.
  • Rotating injection sites can help to improve insulin absorption, but many children neglect to change sites often enough. Frequent site rotation is essential to avoid lipohypertrophy — the formation of a lump under the skin that can prevent complete insulin absorption.
  • Parents should also take steps to educate caregivers and school personnel about a child’s needs and concerns regarding insulin administration.

Moving forward

After the initial shock of a diabetes diagnosis, parents need information and advice for managing their child’s needs and moving forward. The Disney/Lilly Diabetes site is a great resource for families who are dealing with diabetes.

More on dealing with diabetes

4 Steps to prevent diabetes in kids
The best diabetes cookbooks
Kids with diabetes: Tips to help manage the disease

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