Q: Our very athletic 11-year-old daughter experienced hypoglycemia right in the middle of an important basketball game. She was fine after she drank some juice, but having her teammates see her so weak and dizzy has made her feel very embarrassed. How do I help her through moments like this?
A: Team sports and exercise are so good, on so many different levels, for kids with type 1 diabetes. But one thing almost inevitably comes with the territory: At some point, nearly every diabetic child will experience an episode of blood sugar dropping too low or spiking high when engaged in physical activity.
Take time to educate the coach and kids on her team about what goes on in someone's body when they have diabetes, the warning signs that someone's blood sugar is high or low, and why your daughter may sometimes need to rest and have juice or glucose tablets in order to keep her blood sugar in her target range. Ideally, arrange with the coach for this conversation to take place at the beginning of the sports season.
Beyond the physiology, your child is embarrassed, and it's important to get to the root of these feelings. Many times, a child's reaction to incidents like this one says a lot about her feelings towards having type 1. Is it having to leave the game that has your daughter so upset, or the deeper fact that there is something different about her?
As frustrating as this is for parents to hear, some tweens and teens will often neglect watching their food intake or testing their sugar in their quest to be "just like everybody else." It's an attempt to forget about diabetes, and it can backfire. If any of this is in play for your daughter, help her understand that the best way to keep diabetes hidden is to take good care of it! Your diabetes educator can help you and your daughter figure out how to adjust food intake and insulin to keep blood sugar levels on a more even keel at basketball, though it might take some trial and error.
What can help right now? Give your daughter the chance to show off her jump shot by organizing a team get-together at a local basketball court or have her teammates over for an active afternoon of fun and games. Getting right back in the game—literally—is often the best way to show a child with type 1 that other kids' reactions to health issues are more about concern than criticism.
—Gary Scheiner is a certified diabetes educator and exercise physiologist, and founder of Integrated Diabetes Services in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania. He's had type 1 diabetes for over 20 years.
Disclaimer: The information in these articles is not intended as medical advice. Families should check with their healthcare professionals regarding individual care.