JDF Juvenile Diabetes Foundation International
Educational Publications


Your Child Has Diabetes

You have recently learned that your child has insulin-dependent diabetes (also known as Type I or juvenile diabetes). After the initial shock, you may feel tremendous anxiety about two questions:

As parents and members of Juvenile Diabetes Foundation International, we have had the same experience and faced the same concerns. We want to assure you that the answer to each of these questions is a resounding "Yes!" What now seems like a lot of confusing instructions and techniques will soon become second nature to you, and before too long (depending on age of onset), your child will learn to take over much of his or her own care. For right now, bear in mind that--

To help out, we've compiled some information and advice you may find useful. This is not a comprehensive brochure. There's much to be learned about diabetes, and you will certainly want to educate yourself thoroughly. After all, the more you understand what diabetes is and how it works, the better able you will be to live with it, and help your child live with it. However, we hope this booklet will provide you with a quick introduction and handy reference source for basic questions.

Some Basic Definitions

What is insulin-dependent diabetes?

In this type of diabetes, also known as Type I or juvenile diabetes, the pancreas does not produce insulin needed by the body. Insulin is a hormone that allows the body to burn glucose (a form of sugar produced when starches and sugars are digested) for energy. Without insulin, unused glucose builds up in the blood, and overflows into the urine.

Insulin injections allow your child's body to use glucose for energy. Insulin is essential in keeping blood sugar levels normal.

The rule of thumb is: food makes the glucose level rise; exercise and insulin make the glucose level fall.

Hypoglycemia/Low Blood Sugar (Insulin Reaction)

Sometimes called insulin shock, this is when the blood sugar level drops rapidly. It happens suddenly if a child using insulin eats too little food, doesn't eat soon enough, or exercises too much. This condition must be treated quickly because hypoglycemia can lead to unconsciousness.

Diabetic Coma (Ketoacidosis)

This is a diabetic emergency that develops gradually if a diabetic gets into a state of "hyperglycemia"--too much sugar and not enough insulin to use it--and the condition isn't treated. Since the body can't use the sugar for energy, it "steals" energy from the fats stored in the body. When fats are broken down, "ketones" are released: too many ketones become poisonous, and without proper treatment, the diabetic may fall into a coma requiring hospitalization.

The Goals of Diabetes Control

"Control" means keeping the level of sugar in the blood as close to normal as possible. The goal of control are:

Professional Help

Because children with diabetes have special needs, we recommend a "team approach" to your child's medical care. The team should include a physician or pediatrician who has experience treating children with diabetes, a nurse-educator, a dietitian who can help with your child's special dietary considerations, and perhaps a social worker. For recommendations, and for listings of diabetes specialists and diabetes treatment centers, contact your local JDF chapter.

Caring For a Baby With Diabetes

Crying

Crying may mean nothing important--or it may mean the beginning of a drop in your baby's blood sugar level (insulin reaction). What should you do?

Injections

Eating

Insulin Reaction

Minor Illness

Testing

Baby Sitters

Travel

Caring For A Child With Diabetes

Diabetes does make a child somewhat different from classmates and brothers and sisters who do not have diabetes. The trick is for you to help your child accept the difference with a minimum of fuss. You must learn to provide supervision while giving your child responsibility to learn SELF-CARE and control. How quickly a child takes on responsibility varies, but to encourage independence and relieve anxiety, allow your child to participate to the full extent of his ability.

Controlling Diabetes

Diet, exercise and insulin are the three building blocks of diabetes control.

Be Realistic About Control

What About Unexplained High Blood Sugar?

Your Child's Anxiety

Adolescence: Difficult Years

Hormonal Changes

Teenagers often seem incapable of following their self-care routine. They have mood swings, rebel against authority, are grumpy and distant. You may wonder if bad attitude is the reason their blood glucose levels are so difficult to control.

The fact is, hormonal changes which no one can control are affecting your child's blood sugar levels. Even if your child is conscientious about self-control, there may still be big swings in glucose levels. So remember, poor control is not just "in their head"--it's in their body too.

The Role of the Doctor

It is vital for a teenager to have a doctor he or she can talk to freely without a parent getting involved. The doctor can provide expert advice without making the teenager feel childish or overly dependent.

Family Attitude Makes A Difference

The way you and your family respond to the situation will determine the way your child accepts or denies his or her diabetes and copes with its management. Evidence suggests the following:

It's a difficult balancing act for parents, but we have found that by accepting the realities of living with diabetes--by understanding every aspect of the disease--our children will learn to do likewise and lead full, active lives "like every other kid."

Please call your local chapter of JDF International if you want to talk to others who are dealing with the same problems you and your family are facing.

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