Finding out your child has a condition like diabetes can be overwhelming. And, although it’s a disease that will always be part of your child’s life, getting help sooner rather than later is key to successfully managing the disease so your child can live a childhood unrestricted by the condition.
When children are diagnosed with Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, it means there’s too much glucose — the body’s main source of energy for cells — in their bloodstream. Although glucose is found naturally in child’s body, it also comes from the food they eat. Too much or too little glucose in the blood can cause serious health problems.
Both types of diabetes can occur at any age, but kids with Type 1 diabetes make no insulin, and kids with Type 2 make insulin, but it doesn't work as well as it should.
Insulin is a hormone found in the pancreas that allows sugar to get into cells of the body so that sugar can be used as energy.
Symptoms of Children with Diabetes
Some of the most common signs and symptoms of children with diabetes include:
sugar in urine
sudden vision changes
sudden weight loss
fruity or sweet-like odor on breath
heavy or labored breathing
Diagnosing Children With Diabetes
Children diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes are typically diagnosed after presenting with symptoms such as unexplained weight loss, excessive urination, or excessive thirst. Children are diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes typically through a urine sample during a routine examination and symptoms are less dramatic.
Some lab tests that may be used to diagnose diabetes include:
fasting plasma test (FPG): a blood test that measures blood glucose in someone who has fasted for at least 8 hours
oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT): this test is given to someone who has fasted for 8 hours and then is asked to drink a glucose-containing beverage
random plasma glucose test: this blood glucose test is done without regard to fasting
Nutrition Tips for Children with Diabetes
At Nemours, our registered dietitians are part of your child’s diabetes care team. Nutrition is an important part of proper diabetes management. It’s not only about counting carbohydrates; it’s about healthy eating habits that are enjoyable.
Developing a Healthy Meal Plan
Healthy food choices should be encouraged for all family members. A registered dietitian at Nemours can help plan a healthy meal plan for your child with diabetes. Just as your child grows and develops, so must your child’s meal plan.
A healthy meal plan includes certain types of carbohydrates (carbs), lean protein, and fat and can be used for children with diabetes and without.
Carbohydrates are found in foods such as bread/starch, fruit, milk, and sweets. Eating carbs makes blood sugar levels rise, but that doesn’t mean that people with diabetes should avoid them — the body needs carbs. Since they affect blood sugar levels, it’s recommended children with diabetes track how many carbs they eat.
Follow these tips for healthy nutrition:
Choose healthy carbs that provide fiber, vitamins, and other nutrients,
whole wheat/grains instead of white bread, white pasta, or white rice
fresh fruit instead of fruit juices
fat-free or 1% milk instead of whole or 2% milk
light ice cream instead of full fat ice cream
limit desserts like cake, cookies, and candy, to special occasions
Choose protein from lean meats (cuts of beef and pork that end in “loin” or skinless chicken/turkey), egg whites, reduced-fat cheese, nuts, tofu, and beans.
Avoid foods high in saturated fats and trans fats, as these can raise heart-damaging cholesterol in the body. Choose heart-healthy fats, such as olive oil, canola oil, peanuts, and avocado. Remember that all fats are high in calories, so watch your portion sizes if you are trying to lose or maintain weight.
Drink mainly water instead of regular soda, fruit punch, sweet tea, and other sugary drinks. It’s OK to have calorie-free “diet” drinks occasionally.
Watch your portion sizes! Eating too much of even healthy foods can lead to excessive weight gain.
Understanding DIABETES, By H. Peter Chase, MD, published by Children’s Diabetes Foundation at Denver (ISBN 978-098326500-9). An instructional manual for families of children with diabetes.
Sending Your Child With Special Needs to Camp
Preparing Your Child — and Yourself
If you haven't visited the camp, get as much information about it as possible, including a description of the layout and a video, if the camp has one, and go over these with your child.
Tell your child that you'll be checking in regularly with the camp staff and stress that he or she can always let them know if his or her needs aren't being met. Offer reassurance that you and the camp staff will take every precaution to make sure that all kids stay safe.
Talk about the benefits of attending camp and what some of your child's goals might be, such as to try a new sport, make new friends, or just enjoy a break from doctors' appointments and therapy sessions.
When kids are intimidated by the thought of attending a residential camp or an inclusionary camp, parents might consider starting them in a day camp or a sports team for kids with special needs. This can give them the skills and confidence they need to feel comfortable about going to a residential camp.
Start with regular sports activities and day camp. Then use a special-needs camp to get them used to being away before sending them to an inclusionary camp.
Another option to consider is sending a child to camp with a friend or a sibling. If kids attend an inclusionary or mainstream camp, the buddy doesn't have to have a special need. Going with a friend can reduce stress for both parents and kids, since kids with special needs and their camp buddies will be looking out for each other.
Sharing Information With Camp Staff
Some parents are reluctant to share too much information with camp staff for fear it will have negative repercussions for their child (for example, they may wonder if the camp will still take their child or if they're setting their child up for failure). But good camps will want and need to know as much as possible — the more information they have, the better.
Consult with your child's doctor and other specialists, such as a physical therapist, to make sure you give the camp director and staff all necessary information, and ask the camp staff if they have everything they need from you.
You can help educate the staff by spending time with them and answering and asking questions before you drop off your child. This can be critical. For example, if your child will be attending a mainstream camp, you'll want to make sure that everything is accessible for your child and that the staff understands your child's needs.
Many camps have paperwork you can fill out to share information about things like dietary and medical needs. And regardless of whether your child is going to a day or residential camp, you should give the staff a list of emergency phone numbers and email addresses, and make sure they know how to reach you at all times during your child's camp stay.
If your child takes any medication, include the phone number of your doctor in case the prescription is lost and needs to be refilled by camp staff. Check whether the camp infirmary stocks your child's medication, too. If it doesn't, send extra medicine in case of an emergency.
What to Pack
Try to limit the special equipment your child brings, especially if it's expensive or breakable. Kids going to a mainstream camp are likely to want to be like all the other kids, so do what you can to accommodate that desire. And mark or label everything with your child's name to make it easier to keep track of belongings — that goes for everything from crutches to a retainer case.
If the camp hasn't sent you one, you should call ahead for a list of recommended items. Every camp has different requirements.
You also have the option to provide any support staff your child needs. If your child needs a therapist, you can have that person come in on a predetermined basis to provide care. Or maybe your child needs more intensive, round-the-clock care — ask the camp director what you can do to accommodate these special needs.
Remember, however, that you may want to let your child have a vacation from therapy or other treatments. Before you decide to postpone any treatments, though, consult with your doctor.
Dealing With Anxiety and Homesickness
Many camps don't allow direct contact between parent and child while the camp is in session — they do this to help the campers stay focused on their activities. This can be scary for parents of kids with special needs, which is why it's important that you figure out, ahead of time, how you'll get information about your child's status. Will the camp call you with updates or can you occasionally call or email the supervisor and camp staff?
Like any parent of a camper, though, parents of kids with special needs can write letters to remind their kids that they're loved and missed, and that they can't wait to hear all about their campers' many experiences.
And just like any other child, your kid probably won't want you to cramp his or her style while away at camp. The best thing you can do is respect your camper's need for freedom and independence while enjoying a safe camp environment.