Q: Our 9-year-old is such a loner. I remember being somewhat the same way when I was a child, which makes it difficult for me to understand whether his lack of interest in playing with other kids his own age is related to his type 1 diabetes or not. How do I get to the bottom of this?
A: Having type 1 diabetes can feel overwhelming or scary for some kids, but because they are children, expressing these kinds of emotions may not come easily. To find out more about what your son is thinking right now, a first step may be to simply check in with him. It can take a few times letting your child know that you are available to talk before he will open up, but keep trying. Is he feeling sad or burned out by having diabetes? Does he feel different from other children his own age? It’s important to honor these feelings and acknowledge that life with diabetes is not easy.
Using this information, you can also brainstorm ways to help your son overcome these negative feelings. Maybe he would benefit from attending a camp just for children with type 1? Or perhaps he just needs a little help and encouragement to get back to doing the things he enjoyed before his diagnosis.
On the other hand, don’t be surprised if all you hear back from your son is, “Nothing is wrong.” How do you know if this is really true? A good way to tell is by checking in with your son’s teacher or coaches to see what their take is. Has his behavior changed lately? Has he become withdrawn or unusually isolated? Has he lost interest in favorite activities? Does he seem sad or depressed?
Depending on the answers to these questions, you can next touch base with your type 1 diabetes healthcare team to discuss the possibility of a depression screening test. Chronic illness and depression are strongly linked, and a depression screening test (a series of questions that relate to depressive behavior) is a quick and relatively easy way to make sure you are covering all the bases.
Lastly, it could very well turn out that your son really is just independent, like you were at that age. I often tell parents that if a child was a picky eater before his diagnosis of type 1, chances are he will still be a picky eater after his diagnosis. Having type 1 diabetes dramatically changes a child’s health needs and requires changes in family lifestyle, but it is incredible to see how a child’s unique personality and way of being can remain, for the most part, completely unchanged by diabetes.
–Jennifer Rein, L.I.C.S.W., is a licensed independent clinical social worker at the Diabetes Program at Children’s Hospital Boston in Massachusetts.
Disclaimer: The information in these articles is not intended as medical advice. Families should check with their healthcare professionals regarding individual care.