Besides the health issues children with type-1 diabetes must face, they are confronted with other challenges. Research shows that being diagnosed with diabetes can negatively impact a childs self-concept. Self-concept is the image children have about themselves and is influenced by what they perceive others to think about them.
Type-1 diabetes is a disease that affects more than 15,000 children and their families each year in America, and it occurs when the pancreas stops producing the hormone insulin. Insulin helps level out blood sugar after intake of carbohydrates. Diabetics have to learn how to regulate their blood sugar by testing their blood. They also need to follow a schedule when it comes to eating, testing and administering insulin because simple things such as sickness, exercise, hormones and stress can affect their blood-sugar level.
Children with diabetes may feel different in school because their lifestyle differs from that of their peers. They have to be concerned about testing, snacking, and eating the right amount of food at lunch and may worry about what they miss when theyre not in class because of their disease. Frequent trips to the nurses office can bring questions from classmates. Their peers might even think their disease is contagious and make comments that make the diabetic feel uncomfortable.
When a child has diabetes, it affects the entire family. Parents are the main caretakers of a newly diagnosed child or children who are too young to care for themselves. This may mean many changes in their family routines to accommodate the needs of the child. In addition to this, there are likely to be added financial obligations for medications, supplies and medical appointments. Stressors like these can lead to other issues.
For example, anxiety is found to be higher in parents of type-1 diabetics, and research shows that depression in parents of diabetics is greater than in the general population. Children with diabetes are likewise at greater risk for depression. Along with this, research indicates that eating disorders, substance abuse and suicide may be more prevalent in people with type-1 diabetes.
While having a child with diabetes may seem overwhelming at times, youre not alone. One option that can help diabetics and their families is counseling. One study showed that children who were involved in therapy had better control over blood-glucose levels and experienced fewer hospitalizations. Parents also should consider looking for support groups, books and websites to learn about how to deal with the disease.
Type-1 diabetes is a chronic condition that needs close attention, but with knowledge and support, parents can become their childs biggest advocate in learning to live with the disease. For information on times and dates of local support groups and other resources for those affected by diabetes in our area, see the Mount Nittany Medical Center website at www.mountnittany.org.
Kali Gray is a senior in Penn States department of human development and family studies. This weekly column is a collaboration of Centre County Communities that Care serving Bald Eagle, Bellefonte, Penns Valley and Philipsburg-Osceola area school districts, and Care Partnership: Centre Region Communities that Care serving the State College Area School District.