The Only Constant is Change: Sending Your Type 1 Diabetic Off to College

By Lori Finch

As parents, the only thing we can be sure of is change. This is especially true as you send your child off to college. However, when you send your type 1 child off to college, these changes could result in death. Every type 1 parent knows that this statement is not an exaggeration. All parents worry about the usual college issues like academic stress, roommate issues, sleep patterns, eating habits, and alcohol and drug use. Type 1 parents also have the added worries of blood glucose levels, insulin management, and DKA just to name a few.

So, what is a type 1 parent to do? Up until now, our type 1 children have lived at home where we can see them daily, but what happens when we don’t have eyes on them every day? We want to navigate the college process without passing on our own anxiety, but how do we do that? First, parents must have a straightforward conversation with their type 1 child to prepare them for what to expect if their diabetes management gets off track. Parents need to ask questions like: Where is the Health Center located? Where is the nearest hospital? Will your roommate, RA, or RD know what to do in case of an emergency? Who will you call in case of an emergency? Second, type 1 parents and students need to know that they are not alone. There are several online resources such as, College Diabetes Network which provides suggestions on what to look for as you begin searching for colleges, how to prepare for leaving home, and what to do once you’re on campus.

Our family is fortunate enough to live in Colorado where we have the Barbara Davis Center for Diabetes (BDC). The BDC offers a Beyond High School workshop that is a fun and interactive program that prepares young adults with type 1 diabetes for several life changes during their transition from high school to college, to work, and living away from their parents. They also offer a session for parents with a question-and-answer portion.

Realistically, your type 1 student may say that their only concern is getting up for their 8AM class; however, know that they do have many, many concerns regarding their diabetes management. In addition, know that they may resist having conversations about their diabetes management. Their pushing you away is part of the process of maturation. Give them some time and space and then approach the topic again. Your relationship with them will continue to evolve during their college years and beyond. Your role will be on an ever-changing spectrum from manager to consultant. This change does not mean that theyare leaving you behind, but it does mean that they are taking meaningful steps towards adulthood. This change represents an emotional separation for both parents and their type 1 children. This emotional separation is perhaps the most difficult change of all, but know that your love, support, and counsel will continue to be necessary as your parental role continually shifts.

Remember that the passage to adulthood takes time especially if there is the added challenge of type 1 diabetes. As parents of college students, we want our children to get good grades, to be kind and compassionate to others and themselves, and to find meaningful relationships. But as type 1 parents, our greatest hope is that we’ve given them all the necessary tools and resources to take care of their type 1 diabetes so that they can have the most normal college experience possible.

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