Diabetes affects over 20,000 children in the UK and causes a person's blood sugar to become too high. It is a lifelong condition. Almost all of these children have Type 1 Diabetes; there are only about 500 children with Type 2 Diabetes in the UK.
There are two types of diabetes:
Type 1 diabetes
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition where the body attacks and destroys insulin-producing cells. This means no insulin is being produced in the body which causes glucose to quickly rise in the blood.
Most children and young people diagnosed with diabetes have Type 1 Diabetes and are dependent on insulin which is delivered either through regular injections or by an electronic insulin pump.
Type 2 diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is when the body doesn’t make enough insulin, or the insulin it makes doesn’t work properly, meaning glucose builds up in the blood. It is caused by a complex interplay of genetic and environmental factors.
What are the symptoms of diabetes?
Getting helps as soon as you recognise the symptoms is very important.
Symptoms or signs of diabetes include the 'Four Ts':
- Going to the toilet a lot including bed wetting by a previously dry child or heavier nappies in babies
- Being really thirsty and not being able to quench the thirst
- Feeling more tired than usual
- Losing weight or looking thinner than usual.
How can you support your child if they have diabetes?
Being diagnosed with diabetes can be a difficult and stressful time for your child.
Your child may feel lonely and different from other children. It’s good to talk to your child openly and listen to any concerns or worries they may have. You will both need to learn about the illness and how you will need to manage it.
Your child’s diabetes will be managed primarily by a specialist hospital team, and most teams include psychologists, who are able to support you and your child emotionally.
Diabetes and school
If your child has diabetes, it is very important that you and your child’s diabetes specialist nurse tell their school about this. Your child’s school will let the school nurse know and they will be able to offer additional support to you and your child.
Important things to remember:
- Your child’s diabetes specialist nurse and the school nurse will write a care plan with you to provide to school so that everyone knows how your child’s diabetes will be managed at school
- This care plan will include your child’s signs and symptoms of high (hyper) and low (hypo) blood glucose, and what the treatment for these will be for your child
- Your child’s diabetes specialist nurse and the school nurse will train school staff in your child’s care, and they may also signpost the staff to online resources such as the JDRF’s Schools e-learning module
- School staff will be trained to support your child to manage their diabetes at school, and this will vary according to your child’s age. This will include helping staff to understand when your child is Hypo or Hyper, how to treat this, and supporting your child with testing their blood glucose and administering insulin, as well as additional support to manage exercise
- In addition to this in-school support, some hospitals offer specialist training for teachers every year in the hospital
- Your child’s care plan will be updated every year as your child grows and their management routine changes
- If your child is taking exams at school, the care plan will include any special arrangements that your child needs in order to perform their best in exams
- Your child will need to carry all their diabetes kit with them wherever they go, including taking this to school. This will include their insulin (pen and needles or pump), blood glucose tester and finger-pricker, and hypo treatments such as glucose tablets
- You will also need to provide and a box of spare equipment to store in school, and you should keep this updated.
Support for parents
Your paediatric team may be able to put you in touch with other families who live locally to you who have a child with Type 1 Diabetes. Social media is a popular way to interact with and meet other families too, and there is a wealth of Type 1 Diabetes Facebook groups to access.
Two key groups you may be interested to join are:
Children with Diabetes UK (CWD UK) is a patient-led, online support group for families of children with diabetes living in the UK. It is run by families of children with diabetes, and provides a forum to discuss all of the personal and scientific aspects of diabetes in children and how it affects families’ lives including; achieving good control, awareness about insulin pump therapy, using continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) and getting support for children while they are at school.
For families living in London there is an active Facebook group which is a great source of support and advice, and which runs three events for families each year, alternating venues around the region. Visit the South East and London facebook group.
Diabetes UK holds annual events for families and young people with Type 1 Diabetes. They produce useful resources including sample care plans for school trips, tools for managing exams, and a ‘care in school helpline’ to support with resolving challenges.
JDRF (Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation) holds discovery days with a focus on research, as well as weekends for families and young people with Type 1 Diabetes. JDRF also produces valuable information for schools, including online learning resources and guides for teaching and support staff.