The National Institutes of Health reported that in 2017 alone, more than 200,000 children and teenagers had a diagnosis of Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes in the United States. In other developed countries, the prevalence of diabetes in children is similar, with an increase of 1.8% for Type 1 diagnoses and 4.8% for Type 2 annually over the last several years. Children receiving a diagnosis of diabetes face several life-changing effects, including a new reality of daily care and the potential health challenges they may experience over a lifetime. Parents, then, are tasked with supporting a child diagnosed with diabetes in several ways, starting with getting the initial diagnosis correct as early as possible.
Getting the Right Diagnosis
When a child is sick and there is no apparent cause, parents often feel a great deal of panic and worry until a diagnosis is delivered. Diabetes comes with a variety of warning signs and symptoms, but according to Diabetes UK, only 14% of parents are able to accurately identify the most common symptoms of Type 1 diabetes quickly. In order to get the right diagnosis, parents must be educated on the four T’s of the condition in children. These include:
- Toileting: when children use the bathroom frequently, or bedwetting is a new issue, it could be a warning sign of diabetes.
- Thirst: children who drink more fluids than usual but still complain of being thirsty consistently may be showing signs of diabetes.
- Tired: exhaustion that takes place more often than usual could also be a warning sign.
- Thinness: children who lose weight without another clear explanation need to be tested for diabetes.
While having these common symptoms in mind is helpful in getting the proper diagnosis, parents are not always successful the first time around. A group of experts in medical negligence claims explain that several of the most prevalent warning signs of diabetes are also issues seen in children with other, more common conditions. For instance, a urinary tract infection may cause frequent bathroom visits as well as increased thirst, while a viral infection may lead to unexplained fatigue and weight loss. Because these symptoms mimic diabetes, it is all too common to receive a misdiagnosis initially. Parents should be diligent about following up with their pediatrician when symptoms do not subside after treatment begins for a more common condition, as the real culprit could be diabetes.
Common Emotional Responses
When an accurate diagnosis of diabetes is presented, parents often struggle with how to manage their child’s response. Part of this issue revolves around the emotional impact a diabetes diagnosis has on a young child or teenager. Many young patients experience fear after being diagnosed, as there is a great sense of anxiety around what health issues may arise in the future and how treatment may impact their lives moving forward. Similarly, children often feel shame, as if they did something to cause the diagnosis. They may be embarrassed or feel guilt shortly after receiving a diabetes diagnosis.
Some children also experience grave feelings of isolation, as treatment plans make them feel left out of certain activities or social interactions. These sentiments combined with other emotional responses may lead to mental health issues in young children. Depression may take place when there is not enough support or understanding from peers, siblings, or parents, and this can result in a lifetime of additional treatment or medication. To ease some or all of these emotional responses, parents can follow the tips below to ensure their child is as physically and mentally healthy moving forward.
Tips for Parents
The most important step in supporting children who recently received a diagnosis of diabetes is to allow space and time for grieving, for both yourself and the child. A significant health change that requires a lifetime of treatment and care is a loss of sorts, so it is necessary to go through the process of mourning as needed. There is no simple way of dealing with a diagnosis, but having this time together – and separate – is valuable in creating a positive environment moving forward.
Parents should also act in a way that shows respect for the child and offer calm support as they work through their own emotional responses. For very young children, the diagnosis may not result in immediate or severe reactions, but this can change as they develop into a teenager and young adult. Parents can take a step in the right direction by educating children and themselves on the condition, finding support groups that include children with the same diagnosis, and encourage normal activities as they are able. The combination of these strategies may not completely ease the emotional issues spawning from a diabetes diagnosis, but they will make a difference in how living with the condition impacts a child’s future.