Type 1 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes in children, causing about 90 to 95 percent of instances of childhood diabetes.
When a child is diagnosed with diabetes, it is understandable that parents go through feelings of guilt and anger – a feeling of “why my child” and “what have I done wrong?”
There is, however, no understanding of the cause of childhood diabetes, although the last 30 years has seen the number of cases in the under 5s triple globally.
In children, the symptoms tend to develop much quicker than in adults, and can include:
- increased thirst.
- frequent urination, including overnight.
- weight loss.
- tummy aches and headaches.
- behavioural problems.
In more extreme cases, diabetic ketoacidosis occurs before diabetes is diagnosed. This happens when blood sugar levels are high, and there are ketones and ketoacids in the blood. This requires immediate hospitalisation.
Living with childhood diabetes.
The initial shock of diagnosis is traumatic for a family. The parents always want to protect their child, the diagnosed child has to learn to accept the disease, and siblings have to learn to accept their parents spending more time with their brother or sister.
Some families need counselling, others feel they can cope on their own. However, a solid network of healthcare professionals, family members and the diabetes community can help any family through these difficult initial stages.
In childhood diabetes, there is a period known as the ‘honeymoon period’ where the insulin may continue to produce some insulin.
The first few weeks post-diagnosis involve a large amount of learning, with often quite detailed and practical sessions with healthcare professionals on testing blood sugar levels and insulin injections.
Listen to all your children.
Parents need to focus on the child with diabetes, but it is important that they also set aside time for their other children. It’s also important that the other family members do not feel neglected or asked to be more responsible than they should be for their age.
Set aside “sibling only” time. Leave the mobile phone with the other parent. In other words, devote a few hours of quality time a week to be with the sibling. Make sure that during that time, you do not talk about diabetes. This is their time to have you all to themselves.
Acknowledge & encourage.
Acknowledge the sibling’s courage and generosity for the support and care that they give their brother or sister. Receiving words of encouragement makes you want to do well, just like cheering in sports.
Find outside help.
It’s helpful to give the non-diabetic members of the family an opportunity to talk to someone outside their family. It could be a counsellor, a teacher, diabetes educator, or other children who have brothers or sisters with diabetes.
Get together as a family.
Provide opportunities for siblings to get together as a group. There are family diabetes camps that allow siblings to come along.
You’re not alone.
Look for support groups in the community. This is a wonderful chance for children to talk to other children who are dealing with the same emotions and issues. It is a time that they can recognise that they are not alone in this world. These environments are also helpful for the parents to meet and share with other parents.