Q: How do we talk to adult friends and family about our son’s recent diagnosis with type 1 diabetes?
A: When you have a child with type 1, close friends and other adult family members often become a wonderful source of personal support. But explaining your child’s new health needs to anyone can feel like an overwhelming task, even when you are talking to someone in your inner circle.
As you start to share information about your child’s diagnosis, set the tone by emphasizing to friends and family that your son is still the same person he was before the diagnosis. We always tell parents that this is a child with diabetes we are talking about, not a “diabetic child.” Children with type 1 are not defined by the disease, nor does having the disease make them sickly. They can do the same things that any other child their age can do, from going to sleepovers and playing sports to eating at Burger King. The only real difference is the need to pay more attention to detail in the form of insulin and blood glucose management.
Depending on how much your loved ones already know about diabetes, explain that your child’s type 1 was not caused by anything the child did—or that you did. While the root causes of type 1 diabetes appear to be a complex combination of genetic and environmental factors, we do know that developing type 1 has nothing to do with eating too much candy or other unhealthy eating habits. A good shortcut is to ask your diabetes team to provide you with some basic literature on type 1 that would be helpful for friends and family to read. Since we hear so much about type 2 diabetes in the news these days, it can also be useful to explain the difference between the two diseases.
Prior to spending time with your child, take time to prep friends and family on the basics of type 1 care. Explain that they will see you measuring blood sugar using a lancet and glucose meter. When it is time to administer insulin, they may see you use a syringe. When you have a son or daughter who has been newly diagnosed, it is also important to let friends and family know that they may see some stalling or tears on the part of the child, especially when it is time to test blood glucose levels (due to the pricking pain associated with lancet use). Emphasize that this is a completely normal part of adjusting to life with type 1 diabetes.
Your friends and family will likely want to know what they can do to help out. Every family’s needs for support are unique. But for your newly diagnosed son, the best thing may be to ask a loved one to be just that, the same caring, warm person your child has always known.
–Cynthia Pasquarello, B.S.N., R.N., C.D.E., Pediatric Nurse Manager, Joslin Diabetes Center, Boston, Mass.
Disclaimer: The information in these articles is not intended as medical advice. Families should check with their healthcare professionals regarding individual care.