Let’s embark on an exercise in understatement.
Raising a child with autism is hard. Raising a child with type 1 diabetes is hard. Raising a child unfortunate enough to have both of these conditions almost unthinkable.
Yet there are those who have to do exactly that every day. Their challenges are unique in the world of type 1 diabetes, and it’s those difficulties we hope to honor and alleviate with this guide to caring for your autistic kid with diabetes.
We’ll explore strategies of attitude and practice that can make it easier to care for your autistic, diabetic child. Keep reading to learn more.
Links Between Autism and Diabetes
A child with both diabetes and autism may be more than just unlucky. These conditions have co-occurred enough that researchers have looked into connections between them.
There is a strong link between autism and type 2 diabetes. One reason for this connection is the fact that people with autism tend to be overweight more than members of the general population. Obesity is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes.
The medications people with autism take to manage their conditions may also contribute to their increased propensity for developing type 2 diabetes. This also goes back to obesity, as common autism-treating drugs risperidone and aripiprazole both count weight gain among their side effects.
The connection between autism and type 1 diabetes is more tenuous, but one study by endocrinologists at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto suggests that autistic children may have type 1 diabetes anywhere from 1.5 to 3 times more frequently than children without type 1 diabetes.
No one knows the exact reasons why these conditions occur together. Since the analysis of the problem is something of a dead end at the moment, let’s change our focus. Let’s think about how we can help the children currently suffering from both type 1 diabetes and autism.
8 Tips for Raising a Child with Autism and Type 1 Diabetes
Communication is the key to strong relationships. This is so true that it’s become cliched. And wouldn’t you know it, communication tops our list of tips.
There are other, more specific and perhaps more surprising suggestions, but we couldn’t skip on including communication. It’s foundational to any of these tips working.
See what we mean below.
1. Practice Clear Communication
Communicating clearly with your child and getting them to communicate clearly with you is essential to their care. The reason this is especially important is because of the way autism can affect a child’s ability to communicate. When you mix the uncommunicative nature of autism with a disease like diabetes that requires close attention to cues and decisive action, you have a volatile mix.
Create an environment where your child is comfortable letting you know how their blood sugar is feeling. Know your child’s cues for low blood sugars especially.
2. Create a Routine and Stick to It
Autistic children crave routine, and they loathe change. This can be a positive once you have established a routine, though it may create obstacles in the early stages of that process.
Elements of a successful routine include regular meal times, a medication schedule, and standard times for waking up, going to bed, and visiting the doctor.
3. Be Strict with Scheduling Checkups
Speaking of visiting the doctor, you need to be vigilant with scheduling your child’s appointments. Type 1 diabetes is a disease that requires more regular doctor’s appointments anyway, so check with your child’s doctor to see the frequency of appointments they recommend, given your situation.
By staying in close contact with the doctor, you can stay on top of changes to your child’s condition. This will help you be the aid and advocate they need in their daily lives.
4. Feed Your Child a Healthy Diet
People with autism, especially children, are notoriously picky eaters. When this pickiness lands on a diet that includes mostly junk food, that’s where you get the problems with obesity we mentioned earlier. An unhealthy diet can cause problems for any diabetic, and that includes type 1s.
This will take patience, but work with your child to find foods they actually enjoy that don’t spike their blood sugar. It may take some experimentation, but food that doesn’t affect the blood sugar in extreme ways will make your child’s routine that much easier to follow.
5. Get Exercise!
Exercise is another great way to manage blood sugar, as long as it is consistent and low intensity. If your child likes to play outside and exercise vigorously, there are ways to manage that. But you’ll need to be especially sensitive to lows and test their blood sugar more frequently.
Exercising with your child, even if it’s just going on walks together, is a great way to encourage this habit in your child and increase the communication between you.
6. Be Extra Rigorous in Blood Sugar Testing
This suggestion has been a running theme throughout the previous suggestions. If communication is lacking or you’re in doubt for any reason, testing your child’s blood sugar can give you the information you need to treat their immediate symptoms. It’s a hard and fast way to understand confusing behavior.
7. Monitor Stress
Stress can raise blood sugar, thanks to the cortisol it releases in our bodies. Autism can cause stress to children for many reasons, so it’s important to keep their routine and take stock of their stress levels to alleviate any unnatural stress you can.
8. Don’t Confuse Symptoms
Children with autism can display “stimming” behavior, which can bear resemblance to the symptoms of low blood sugar. This can make it hard to distinguish between the symptoms of each condition.
If you’ve established clear communication and are testing blood sugars regularly, you can avoid confusing the symptoms of diabetes for the symptoms of autism and vice versa.
You Can Do It
We hope this guide can help relieve some of the pressure that comes with raising a child with autism and type 1 diabetes. Each of these conditions is a handful on its own. When they co-occur, it can take Herculean efforts of parenting to manage them, but it can be done.
After you’ve familiarized yourself with these suggestions, take a look at how to save money on diabetic test strips to test your child as often as they need.