Raising a Child with Diabetes: The World of High School

Being a parent is mentally and emotionally draining at times. Factor in Type 1 diabetes and you will definitely have your hands full. Not just some of the time, but all of the time. It presents challenges for your and for your child.

Right after my son’s diagnosis I had so many emotions and thoughts running through me. You ask yourself, “Is this my fault? Did he get this from me?”

My son’s endocrinologist spent time explaining to us that while Type 1 diabetes can be passed on genetically it can also be caused by a viral infection in a person’s body. That doesn't ease the guilt a parent feels when their child is diagnosed with an auto-immune disorder like this. Over the years I’ve asked myself occasionally if my son is being punished for something I had done in life? Did I somehow inflict this on my child? The answer is no and I know that, but I think it’s natural for someone to try to find understanding in a random occurrence.

The first three years after my son was diagnosed was physically hard on my husband. The fear of low blood sugars in the middle of the night kept him from getting more than 3-4 hours of sleep. He would stay awake long after my son and I went to sleep to take blood sugar readings for the simple purpose of trending my son’s blood sugar. He wasn’t fully trusting of giving my son’s endocrinologist a three-month snapshot and them understanding what was happening to his son. Once my son was put on an insulin pump and we got approval for a continuous glucose monitor my husband was able to get more restful sleep, but he still monitored and trended blood sugar readings himself.

When your child receives their Type 1 diabetes diagnosis the doctors will tell you that there will be times of sadness and even depression, especially through the teen years. It’s something that you tuck away at the back of your mind and attempt to keep from happening. You can’t prevent it. No matter how hard you try your child will have feelings of sadness. Every child wants to belong and be like everyone else. When they have an illness or condition it is always a thing that makes them different. And they hate it. I can’t count how many times over the years that my son has said, “I just want to be like everyone else and do what they do without having to stop and check my blood sugars!” It makes them question themselves and their faith.

During elementary school my son didn’t run into situations that made him feel bad about his diagnosis. It wasn’t until those dreaded teen years in high school that he had to deal with situations that made him sad, uncomfortable and downright mad about his diabetes. As I’ve mentioned before my son was an athlete in school. He is a charismatic kid who can make anyone feel at ease. He’s always been able to make friends easily.

During his freshman basketball season, it was brought to my attention that some of the seniors on the basketball team referred to my son as “diabetes boy” instead of his name. My son had not mentioned it to us because he didn’t want to make a big deal of it or make himself stand out any more than he already did. Fortunately, he had a wonderful coach that my husband felt comfortable enough to speak to and it was addressed in a manner that didn’t bring attention to my son, but the actions of those few boys.

Fall was all about football and with football comes homecoming – pep rallies, parades, dances. Our school has a co-operation agreement with a neighboring town and our schools combined to form our football team. As the homecoming week wound down his sophomore year, the student body of both schools gathered for the pep rally. The seniors took the stage to speak to the crowd and get them pumped up for the game that evening. One of the senior boys from my son’s school mentioned that he was the only player from his school that was in attendance. A few of the other seniors corrected him and let him know that my son was in the crowd, to which he replied across the speaker, “Oh, he doesn’t count because he has diabetes.” I was not in attendance that day but was told that the gymnasium went quiet. I can’t imagine the emotion my son felt as all eyes turned to him. All he wants is to be like everyone else and in that instance, he was singled out for the one thing that he has no control over.

Through the years, my husband and I have been very open and honest with my son and we’ve been able to foster a relationship with him that he feels comfortable sharing thoughts and feelings with us. My son’s doctors were right; the teen years are the hardest. My son has seen a counselor in the past, but felt that it just wasn’t the right environment for him to share his feelings about his diagnosis and how it affects his life. As a family, we continue to be open about how it affects him and his life as he transitions from high school to college.

My son also finds comfort in the friends he’s made at a yearly American Diabetes Association summer diabetes camp. Next time I’ll talk about camp and what he’s gained from being around kids who go through the same things that he does.

Has your child struggled to fit it while managing a chronic illness? Share your story in the comments.

Presented by: Tamara Martin

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