My son James has both ADHD and type 1 diabetes. It’s an interesting and sometimes frustrating combination. I’m not an expert, I’m just a mom who has lived with this for many years now. And I want to share the two things that get us through the day. They’re my two biggest helps — routines and attitude adjustments.
Routines run our life here. Never did routines become more important in my life than when the world suddenly changed in March 2020 and my children lived perennially at home with me for longer than a year. The harder things are, the more I rely upon my routines to keep my life in order.
Likewise, they are key to daily life with diabetes and ADHD. In addition to the routine of checking blood sugar prior to eating, dosing before or right after finishing each meal, and carrying fast-acting sugar wherever we go, we have developed additional daily and weekly routines here. Our daily routine involves picking one time of day to charge devices, check on whether they need to be switched out or changed (sensors/infusion sets), and troubleshoot any trends that we see (highs or lows that might indicate pump setting adjustments).
We also have a weekly routine. This is one day a week when James and I look to see how we’re doing on supplies. One of the tricky things here is that (for us at least) this isn’t a matter of being able to make a quick pharmacy run. Instead, we need to coordinate with a few different companies for pump/sensor supplies and our insurance company, another location for insulin, and still another spot for low blood sugar treats and juices. It only takes a few minutes to look over our supplies, but it saves us from tense moments when we find ourselves short on something crucial!
One “hack” for making these routines stick is to create a pleasant association for them. James charges his pump during his shower, and he has a few minutes with me each morning before the rest of the family gets up when we do a quick five-minute planning session. Because it’s associated with a nice shower and some peace and quiet, he doesn’t have a hard time remembering to do it. Our weekly session is associated with a frozen pop or hot chocolate, depending on the season!
The second big help is attitude adjustment. ADHD is frustrating. It is extra frustrating when paired with perfectionism. I truly believe perfection is the enemy of good type 1 diabetes management. Because diabetes is relentless, boluses will be accidentally skipped, infusion sets will fail, the flu will ruin best-laid plans, supplies will run dry, and this will happen to anyone; though having ADHD might make those mishaps seem more frequent! James and I try really hard to be super gentle with ourselves. A blood sugar number that is off just means we need to fix it, a frustrating doctor visit means we can listen for advice and move on. Any problem we have can be fixed. Consistency is the key, along with recognizing that perfection is impossible for anyone and all that can be expected is to keep moving forward.
In addition to verbalizing this type of attitude out loud, I also try to model it for James personally. If I’m impossibly hard on myself, he’ll learn this attitude too. If I’m gentle with myself, he’s more likely to be gentle with himself too.
Finally, while James is older now and very independent, he was certainly not always that way! In fact, we got a fair amount of grief for not establishing management skills at what were recognized to be desirable time frames. We did not pressure him to move faster at accepting responsibility than he felt comfortable. And I want to say that we’ve seen benefits to this approach. He did attain the skills he needed in his own time frame and without outside pressure.
I suppose our approach could be summed up as the following: Rather than practice makes perfect, our mantra is lots of practice, paired with lots of peace. That’s the path that we’ve chosen to follow to help set James up for a successful life with type 1 diabetes and ADHD.
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.