Caring for a Child With Type 1 Diabetes

If your child suddenly starts losing weight, is thirstier and urinates more than usual, or grows weak, tired, and nauseated, your youngster probably has the flu or some other virus. But the symptoms could also be warning signs of type 1 diabetes.

Although there's no cure for type 1 diabetes, the disease can be managed.

Don't blame yourself

Parents need to know that they have done nothing wrong and that there is nothing they could have done that could have prevented type 1 diabetes from occurring. Genetics may play a role in the development of this disease, but viral or other factors contribute to its onset.

Do your research

Learn about the disease and its treatment. After a diagnosis, work closely with your health care provider to learn about the disease and create an effective treatment plan.

Treatment involves insulin injections up to several times a day and monitoring  blood sugar levels during the day and occasionally overnight. The levels are checked by pricking an approved area of skin and placing a drop of blood on a chemical strip that is then inserted into a sugar meter, called a glucometer. The glucometer detects a signal to calculate the blood sugar level. The level is displayed on the meter’s screen. Although not yet available, 'no stick' glucometers are being tested and may be approved over the next several years. For now, discuss with your health care provider different monitors and methods that cause less discomfort. 

A pump is an option for some people. This small device delivers insulin through a small tube placed under your skin. The pumps allowset amounts to be delivered throughout the day, as well as other kinds of doses or to cover carbs if you are carb counting. 

Make a plan

Create an effective diet and exercise regimen. Monitoring and managing blood sugar levels is vital to the treatment of type 1 diabetes. In addition to insulin, proper food and regular exercise are key elements of diabetes control. Daily blood sugar monitoring will tell you if your child is experiencing low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) or high blood sugar (hyperglycemia).

To maintain steady sugar levels, a child with type 1 diabetes should eat a well-balanced diet with enough calories to prevent hypoglycemia, but not enough calories to cause an excessive and abnormal increase in blood glucose.

Children with diabetes should engage in normal childhood activities. Exercise improves insulin's action, which can make sugar levels fall. To prevent significantly low blood sugar levels (called hypoglycemia), follow a regular meal schedule, and keep in mind that your child may need an extra snack before exercising. A child with type 1 diabetes may also require snacks throughout the day to maintain balanced sugar levels. If sugar levels do dip, the child may need to drink fruit juice or soda immediately.

Include your child

Involve your child in the treatment process. Allowing your child to participate as much as he or she can helps build your youngster's self-confidence.

Be a positive advocate for your child

Some school-age children with diabetes may need special accommodations during the school day. If you need help working with the school system, local parent support groups, through organizations, such as the American Diabetes Association, can refer you to resources that can assist you. Depending on the severity of your child's diabetes, the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Civil Rights Act may justify additional support for your child's educational needs. You will need to share your child's needs clearly with your school. A letter from your doctor is always helpful. 

Stay up to date

Ask your doctor about new treatment options. Insulin injections can now be given with a pen or wand-like instrument, making the process easier and quicker.

Newer glucose monitors require a smaller blood sample, are easier to use, and store data that can be downloaded to a computer for evaluation or presentation to your doctor. With some newer machines, blood may be obtained from areas other than the fingertips. All meters are different, so be certain to check the owner's manual before using it.