There are essentially three main things that kids with type 1 diabetes do that are outside the bounds of "normal." And by normal, I mean not something that they did before diagnosis. Those three things are blood sugar testing, carb counting and insulin administration.
And that's about it. Yes, these are three very big things -- things that have an impact on daily life, for sure. For example:
Testing can be painful. We all remember our child's adjustment to blood sugar testing. Some of our kids ran away and hid; some of them cried, a lot. But they get used to it. James never cries anymore when he gets his fingers stuck.
Carb counting is very overwhelming at the beginning. It usually gets better. You may be so amazing one day at counting carbs that you will find yourself at a party (not unlike I did last weekend) estimating a piece of cake. You will want a portion with just thirty carb grams, and you may be able to estimate said portion within a gram. (This is a true story! The cake was for Kaitlyn.) This doesn't happen immediately but over time you may seriously astound yourself.
Insulin administration is so scary at first. The needle probably makes your child nervous. He may never like shots or pump insertion, but like blood sugar testing, that fear fades and shots become a new "normal." There may come a time when your child won't blink when you come at him with a meal bolus.
There isn't any question that adjusting to these three things is a huge process and can be overwhelming to anyone. Still, outside of these tasks, it is really amazing how much the life of a child with type 1 diabetes can resemble the life of his or her peers. How much, even, it can resemble his own pre-diagnosis life when he didn't have to think so much about food or blood sugar or insulin.
When you think about it this way, there are almost no activities, sports, adventures, exploits, or journeys that your child cannot now participate in. It may take some adjustment to get used to some of the more physical activities like playing basketball or karate. It may require frequent blood sugar testing and skilled insulin administration. If your child wants to go whitewater rafting, ask your endocrinologist how this can be done. Lots of kids with type 1 diabetes do exciting things every day.
Maybe your child enjoys eating treats and sweets. Maybe your family used to eat fast food every day. Endocrinologists can help you adapt your insulin regimen to the foods that you eat -- even those foods. If you eat fast food, candy, and soda every day in large quantities, you probably shouldn't. But that isn't only because of diabetes. If you have a tradition to go get a burger after your soccer game, though, you totally still can. There is no reason to miss out on a treat or an indulgence.
The truth is, your endocrinologist can help you to live your family's normal life in the best way possible. Go ahead and ride that mountain bike and grab a burger on the way home. Your endo can help you with that. If you'd like to visit a new Thai restaurant and go ice skating, it can certainly be done. Even if you're like James and your preferred weekend activity consists of lounging around reading, your endo can help make this work for you too.
I'm here to say, normal life is attainable for kids with type 1 diabetes. It may not be easy at first but it is so doable. I promise.
About the author: My name is Jennifer, and I live in Southern California with my husband, Craig, and our three boys. Our oldest son James has been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. I'm thankful for this opportunity -- along with my sister-in-law Kim and her daughter Kaitlyn, who also has type 1 diabetes -- to share our struggles and triumphs with our friends in the diabetes community.
Disclaimer: The experiences and suggestions recounted in these articles are not intended as medical advice, and they are not necessarily the "typical" experiences of families with a child who has type 1 diabetes. These situations are unique to the families depicted. Families should check with their healthcare professionals regarding the treatment of type 1 diabetes and the frequency of blood glucose monitoring. Jen and Kim are real moms of kids with type 1 diabetes and have been compensated for their contributions to this site.
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