As a parent, learning your child is a diabetic can bring with it a whole host of powerful emotions. The first reaction is usually disbelief this can’t be happening to my baby followed by shock, anger, denial and sadness.
“People are overwhelmed,” said Val Carver, a certified diabetes educator at William Osler Health Centre’s Diabetes Education Centre. “Diabetes takes over your life in the beginning. Things aren’t normal anymore. But it’s important to remember that, eventually, there will be a new normal.”
Part of the process to reach that new stability and confidence is learning how to manage a child’s diabetes, both medically and from a social and family perspective. Parents have a multitude of questions ranging from What food should I give my child? to Can my son or daughter participate in everyday activities like sports or sleepovers? The primary function of Osler’s pediatric diabetes clinic is to provide answers to these types of queries as well as to support families on an ongoing basis.
Diabetes is a disease in which the body does not produce or properly use insulin, a hormone necessary to convert the sugars from food into energy.
There are three major types of diabetes:
Type 1 (used to be known as ‘juvenile’) is a condition where the body fails to produce insulin. It usually affects children and adults under 35 years of age.
Type 2 is more common in older adults and occurs when the body does not make enough insulin or properly use insulin.
Gestational diabetes affects pregnant women and usually disappears after the birth.
Although Type 2 diabetes is becoming more common in young people as a result of increasing obesity and inactivity, most children with diabetes have Type 1. This form of the disease has no known cause or cure. However, it can be managed with insulin and lifestyle changes.
Once children are diagnosed, they come to the pediatric diabetes clinic with their parents, and sometimes grandparents, to learn how to use insulin properly and cope with their illness. At each visit, they see a nurse, dietitia, pediatrician and social worker. This multidisciplinary approach helps ensure physicians and staff are aware of each child and family’s individual dynamics and needs. Clinical nurse educators are also available by telephone, even during off hours, for parents who have immediate concerns.
Since children with diabetes may feel isolated, the clinic staff encourages contact between families who want to connect with others. For example, Carver recently introduced two young patients who were going to attend the same school. A friendship developed, and their parents then worked with the school to get the children placed in the same class. In the case of a Polish-speaking family, Carver worked with Trillium Health Centre to find another family who spoke the same language.
In addition, Osler holds various events to bring people together such as an annual Halloween party, educational presentations, and a recent seminar in Hindi and Punjabi.
Staff in the pediatric diabetes clinic also offer information sessions for schools and occasionally work with teachers individually so children with diabetes can participate fully in school activities. Carver said the emphasis is on allowing children to do what they want to do while managing their illness.
“We’ll show you how to fit in that fast food lunch, or go to a birthday party or go swimming. At the end of the day, it’s about finding balance. The diabetes is there, but it doesn’t walk through the door first. You’re still a person first.”

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