Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is also referred to as Juvenile Diabetes. It is one of the most common chronic illnesses thet effects children in the United States. It is considered an autoimmune disease where a person’s pancreas stops producing insulin independently. Insulin is a hormone that allows people to get energy from food.

Diabetes occurs when the body’s immune system tries to destroy beta cells which are the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas.


  • There are as many as 3,ooo,ooo Americans with Type 1 Diabetes
  • Each year more than 15,000 children are diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes
  • 15% of people in the United States who have Type 1 Diabetes are children
  • Type 1 diabetes accounts for almost all diabetes in children less than 10 years of age.


While its causes are not yet entirely understood, scientists do believe there is a genetic link. Type 1 diabetes is not brought on by a person’s diet or lifetsyle. This is not the type of diabetes that can be prevented, and while there are treatments it is not a disease that can be totally cured.


Type 1 diabetes can have a quick onset of symptoms, and can be seen over a period of a few weeks. The most common symptoms are:

  • Increased thirst and frequent urination- because sugar builds up in the bloodstream, the surrounding tissues lose fluid. This can leave a child extremely thirsty and cause them to drink and urinate more frequently.
  • Extreme hunger- because of the lack of insulin, the muscles and organs need energy. This causes intense hunger.
  • Weight loss- due to the lack of energy supplies, the body’s fat storage and muscles may shrink which causes weight loss, even with increased appetite.
  • Fatigue- the cells lack of sugar can lead to a child feeling exhausted, even if getting enough sleep.
  • Irritability or unusual behavior- noticing that your child is suddenly irritable or moody may be a warning sign.
  • Blurred vision-the eyes of a person with type 1 diabetes may be losing fluid from within their lenses if the blood sugar is too high. This can cause an inability to visually focus.
  • Yeast infection. Females with type 1 diabetes may develop a yeast infection, and babies can also develop diaper rash caused by the excess yeast.


Because there is no cure for type 1 diabetes,  when children are diagnosed the family will work with their doctor to create a treatment plan. When deciding on a plan, doctors consider how much insulin is needed on a daily basis, what type of insulin, and what the schedule for administration should be.

The goal for treatment is for doctors and families to be able to control the diabetes and still allow the patients to lead a normal life. To maintain typical physical and socio-emotional growth,  the blood sugar level needs to stay as close to the normal range as possible.

Most plans include:

  • taking insulin as the doctor prescribes
  • eating a healthy, balanced diet. Special attention is paid to how many carbohydrates are eaten during snacks and meals.
  • monitoring the levels of sugar in the blood several times a day
  • getting regular physical activity and exercise

Without a cure for type 1 diabetes, the goal is to have it managed well. When a good treatment protocol is developed and followed, the outcome is positive so those effected can have long, productive lives.

There are many resources available for families who have members with diabetes. Click the buttons below to find out more:

Explaining Diabetes to Children

Diabetes can be confusing to a child who is newly diagnosed. This video may help explain what is happening in their bodies, and why they need insulin.

Diabetes in the Classroom

Young children with diabetes require special care and need to be monitored in a classroom setting. While there is no link between diabetes itself and poor performance in schools, there are studies that show that there is a link between  having an elevated blood glucose level and problems in academic setting. For example there are higher instances of behavior problems, problems with visual skills, and in some cases lower intellectual functioning. If the diabetes is managed well, there does not seem to be a link between the diabetes and any negative impact on a child's academic success.

By working together, parents and teachers should become partners in the daily care of a child with diabetes. Some parents choose to go into a school and explain what diabetes is, and give information to the adults in a school setting about warning signs to look for and ways that they can help. The majority of medical care in a school will be given by the nurse there, and most times they work with the family and the doctors to ensure that a treatment plan can be followed in a school setting.

Teachers should know the warning signs of both hypoglecemia (low blood sugar) and hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) which can both be dangerous and at times life threatening  to those suffering from diabetes.

According to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF), these are the waning signs that a student with diabetes needs immediate care:

  • Headaches
  • Sweating
  • Pale, moist skin
  • Cold and Clammy
  • Extreme sudden hunger
  • Weakness/dizziness
  • Shakiness
  • Fatigue
  • Rapid pulse rate
  • Blurred or double vision
  • Shallow breathing
  • Confusion/ inattention
  • Loss of coordination
  • Knowing that a child is diabetic can help teachers understand when to send a child for medical assistance  even when a child cannot clearly describe their own physical state. Teachers should also have a clear understanding of a student's 504 plan. A 504 plan is a legal document that a school must follow that formalizes a plan for a medical issue such as diabetes.

    What should parents do to be pro-active about sending their child with diabetes to school?

    • Have a current Diabetes Medical Management Plan (DMMP). This should include the daily care regimen for the child, appropriate snacks to have on hand, blood monitoring supplies, and insulin injectors. This should be reviewed with the school nurse to make sure that everything in the plan is clear
    • Have a 504 plan in place. This will help ensure that your child’s rights are being protected. This may also outline the careplan when a school nurse is not present.
    • Build your child’s confidence. When age appropriate have them check their on blood levels, and learn to administer the medication they need. The more they feel in control, the better they will be able to manage their diabetes.
    • Listen and reassure. Going back to school or starting school again after diagnosis can be scary. Let the child explain their worries and concerns, and reassure your child that there is a plan in place to help them.

    Schools, parents, and medical staff working together can make a huge difference in how a child feels about managing their diabetes in a school setting.

    Myths and Facts About Diabetes

    There are many myths that surround diabetes that are not all accurate. Here are some examples:

    Myth: People who have diabetes need to follow a very specific diet

    Fact: People that are diabetic need to follow the same healthy plan that all of us should follow that focuses on whole grains, vegetables and fruits, with little refined sugar

    Myth: All diabetes is caused by eating too much sugar

    Fact: Type 1 diabetes is not caused by eating habits. It is genetically linked and there are unknown factors that trigger its onset

    Myth: People who have diabetes get sick more often than those who do not

    Fact: People with diabetes do not get sick more often, but getting sick may make the diabetes more difficult to control

    Myth: You can be a "little bit" diabetic

    Fact: There is no such thing as a little diabetic-everyone who is diabetic can suffer from serious complications

    Myth: People who are diabetic will feel when their blood glucose level goes too low

    Fact: This is not always the case. Some people cannot feel when it goes to low and become hypoglycemic which is dangerous


    American Diabetes Association. (1995-2015). Type 1 diabetes. Retrieved from http://www.diabetes.org/diabetes-basics/type-1/

    Center for Disease Control. (2014, Dec. 9). Diabetes in youth. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/risk/age/youth.html

    JDRF. (n.d.). Type 1 diabetes facts. Retrieved from http://jdrf.org/about-jdrf/fact-sheets/type-1-diabetes-facts/

    Kids Health Organization. (1995-2015). Diabetes center. Retrieved from http://kidshealth.org/kid/centers/diabetes_center.html

    Kids Health Organization. (1995-2015).Treating type 1 diabetes. Retrieved from http://kidshealth.org/parent/medical/endocrine/treating_type1.html#

    Knestrict, T. (2007). Diabetic Child in the Elementary Classroom. Electronic Journal for Inclusive Education. 2(2), 1-7. Retrieved from http://corescholar.libraries.wright.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1081&context=ejie

    May Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (1998-2015). Type 1 diabetes in children. Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/type-1-diabetes-in-children/basics/symptoms/con-20029197

    National Diabetes Education Program. (July 2014). Overview of Diabetes in Children and Adolescents. Retrieved from http://www.ndep.nih.gov/media/Overview-of-Diabetes-Children-508_2014.pdf

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