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Six Tips for Coping When Your Child Is Diagnosed With Diabetes - Among Them: Ask
Dec 22, 2007
Laura Plunkett is the author of 'The Challenge of Childhood Diabetes: Family
Strategies for Raising a Healthy Child'. For additional resources on eating
healthier as a family, visit www.challengeofdiabetes.com.
When my son Danny was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, I was in such a state of
shock that I couldn't absorb the two days of education that our hospital
provided. My head was reeling.
Although I went through the motions of learning,
it wasn't until we returned home that I began to understand the changes the
diagnosis would make in our lives.
Looking back, I realize that if our healthcare team had advised us of certain
strategies, our transition from the blessing of good health to the burden of
chronic illness would have been smoother. In the best of all possible worlds,
our healthcare team would have given us (and all newly diagnosed parents) the
You must enlist help during those early days. Ask at least one extra person to accompany you to follow-up appointments and to meetings with your nutritionist.
With pen and paper in hand, he or she can record all the new information even
when you are upset or anxious. By including a spouse, older children, friends
and extended family, you ensure that informed people surround the child at home.
In addition, some insurance companies will pay for a diabetes nurse from the
Visiting Nurses Association to come to your house and educate family, friends,
neighbors and caregivers about diabetes.
Be aware that you have an increased likelihood of post-traumatic stress
disorder and/or depression, even up to a year after your child's diagnosis.
During those early sleepless nights and days filled with anxiety, I reproached
myself for not handling our situation better. Although I knew I could access
resources through the hospital and local support groups, I tried to cope with
everything myself and didn't ask for help. I didn't know that most parents
grapple with the same issues and that sharing my concerns with others would be
reassuring and supportive. I wish I had reached out sooner.
Give yourself time to study your child and learn his or her particular
patterns and sensitivities. Realize that reaching your targets and goals will
become easier as time passes. Learn from your healthcare team about the many
variables that make it difficult to keep your child's numbers within range. In
the beginning, we didn't have enough information about Danny's particular
reactions to succeed. I didn't know that white flour, white sugar, and many
fried or fatty foods gave Danny's blood sugar an immediate sharp boost. I had no
idea that less sleep, any rush of adrenaline, or a long car ride would send his
sugars skyrocketing. Moreover, I didn't know that these spikes only required a
small amount of insulin to bring them down, while highs from eating a hamburger
required twice as much.
Be aware that food matters. There are rare children who can eat anything,
take a dose of insulin, and have stellar blood sugar numbers. Most children,
however, will have highs and then lows from white sugar, white flour, fried
food, white rice, and white potatoes. Most children will neither spike nor drop
from non-starchy vegetables, chicken, fish, and small portions of whole-grain
bread, brown rice, or sweet potatoes. Yes, most children prefer grilled cheese
to salad, but it helps to acknowledge the effects of different foods and to
slowly help your children learn to like new foods.
Make changes as a family. Our educational classes focused on monitoring
Danny's diet, but no one told us how to convince him to comply with the demands
of his illness. Ultimately, the only way we could add vegetables, fruits, whole
grains, and meats to his diet was to introduce them gradually to the whole
family and remove everything from our house that spiked his blood sugars. We
also made a family decision about exercise, unanimously concluding that sitting
around after meals didn't help any of us. It wasn't long before we were playing
basketball after dinner, riding our bikes and taking long walks.
Help the whole family develop a positive attitude about creating a
healthier lifestyle together, so that the child with diabetes is not left alone
to struggle with the changes. Diabetes is not the only reason to develop new
patterns and habits. Now, I am grateful for the blessing of time, which brought
our family to a new sense of normal and a deeper understanding of how to live
comfortably with diabetes.
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