Friday, 11 December 2009

Counseling Diabetic Children

Thanks to Lauren for another amazing question! She asked:

I'm a Nursing Student and I'm going to a Children's Diabetes camp as a counselor. Having no experience with juvenile diabetes I was wondering if you could give me some tips on what to watch out for emotionally and physically with the kids.

This is such a relevant question to anyone who knows any kids with Type 1 Diabetes, as sometimes it's difficult to know what to be on the look out for.

I've never been to a camp, so I don't really know how they function and how strict they are with checking sugar levels and things like that, but a sure fire way of looking after your kids is to make sure that they know what their levels are all the time, especially when they're doing a lot of exercise, and more importantly to make sure they've always got a couple of snacks with them! Even I forget and need reminding sometimes, so always remind them!! And make sure you've got sugar tablets with you just in case too.

In terms of signs of high and low sugar levels, which will be a big thing to obviously be aware of symptoms of, everyone has their own specific symptoms, so check with your kids on what they feel and look like when their levels go up and down. I'll give you some for instances, and how I look and feel just as a hint and hopefully a little help:

- When I go low, I get really dark circles under my eyes, and my pupils dilate, also I do act totally drunk, I talk faster and my movements are much less coordinated. I also get very hot and dizzy. These are the symptoms that are the most important to watch out for, as they are the most immediately harmful.
- When I have a high sugar level, I get very thirsty and act hung-over, I get very tired and lethargic. Everything goes very slowly and it's difficult to get me to do anything. It's really difficult to keep my eyes open as my body is on shut-down mode. I also become really pale and start to look pretty unwell. There's also the tell tale pear breath smell, that's quite prominent in a lot of diabetics when they have a high level.

These really are the different physical symptoms that you will experience with the kids, but it is different with everybody.

I suppose it also might be worth mentioning that if they get homesick or ill at all that you'll need to monitor them very carefully, and stay with them whilst they're checking their level, and help them decide what to do when they see it.

If a child has had a couple of high sugar levels, it would be worth sitting with them to figure out how you can both bring the level down together. Sometimes when I've had a couple of bad sugar levels in succession I make bad decisions, and don't think properly about what I should do, like injecting rather than bolusing. I can get quite stubborn too, and think I know better, when I know I'm not thinking clearly! I can also get very forgetful when my levels are bad, and forget to bolus which makes things a lot worse...

in terms of emotional things to look for, if I haven't already covered them, then I'm not really sure! there'll be the usual camp problems like homesickness, which could mean disturbed sleeping patterns, illness or just some dodgy sugar levels. and homesickness won't just happen to the quiet ones, it'll affect the loud ones too!

i suppose also, there'll be a varying range of ages and stages of diabetes, and some children will be better able to cope with things themselves than others. Some might have just started on an insulin pump, whereas others might have started a few years ago, and some might not have made the switch yet and still be on injections. Make sure you ask them this, and watch carefully to see what they do know how to do. The great thing about a diabetic camp is that the kids can learn from each other and be supported by their friends, so make sure that they are all getting along well together!

I hope that kind of answers your question! Do ask other questions as a comment if you like, and I will answer as best I can! The other thing to do, is to read back through some of my older posts, which will help you get a better feeling for what living with juvenile diabetes is like, so you can relate more to the children.

Here in the UK, as far as I'm aware there aren't any diabetes camps at all, so I don't have any experience of them. Although I did go to a regular camp when I was younger, it's not quite the same...I would love to do some counseling at one though, it'd be so much fun! I hope you enjoy your experience! (I stand corrected on this matter, and am totally going to email Diabetes UK to ask about helping out at one...!)