The stigma of diabetes
Children with diabetes often experience stigma. Carine Visagie explains how to make life easier for your child.
When Njabulo Dlamini was diagnosed with diabetes at the age of 16, he didn’t reveal his diagnosis to his friends. Fear of being called a drug addict, and standing out from the crowd, made him keep it a secret until the age of 19.
After he met Jenny Russell from Diabetes South Africa’s Durban branch, this young man (also an Idols star) started using his experience to break down some of the myths about the condition. But many other children with diabetes still have to deal with rejection and ridicule – so much so that their mental and physical health suffers.
Is there something that can be done to eliminate this social side effect of diabetes? We asked the experts.
Don’t make a fuss
When parents, teachers and other role models make a diabetes diagnosis and the day-to-day management a simple part of life, other children are more likely to accept this model as the norm. “Children don’t usually have preconceived prejudices, and they tend to follow models of behaviour set out for them,” says paediatric endocrinologist Dr Michelle Carrihill. “There’s no reason for children with diabetes to feel stigmatised if everyone is shown the right way to behave.”
Parents have a special role to play in this process, which starts with giving school staff and classmates the correct info. The more informed others are, the less likely it is that they’ll treat the child with diabetes differently.
Not sure where to start? Here are some guidelines*.
How you can help:
- Learn as much as possible about your child’s condition and do a simple presentation to teachers and classmates explaining what diabetes is, and what blood glucose testing and insulin injections involve. This moves the kids’ response away from fear and suspicion towards acceptance.
- Provide teachers with written information about your child’s needs. Include:
- A care plan for your child’s routine school day.
- A plan for days when the routine isn’t followed (for example, during outings).
- Signs and symptoms that could indicate a problem.
- What to do in an emergency, including all necessary contact information.
Make these plans with the teachers’ input, so that their roles are clear and accepted. A diabetes educator, dietician or diabetes specialist nurse can assist.
- Explain to teachers that blood glucose testing, additional trips to the bathroom and eating extra carbohydrates may sometimes be necessary. No big deal should be made of this.
- Explain that your child can exercise and also take part in outings, just like the other kids: there’s no need to treat them differently.
- Some kids are okay to inject in front of friends, while others are not. Ask the school to provide an area where your child will feel comfortable to test and inject. This could be the corner of a classroom or the nurse’s office, as long as the space is clean and quiet. They shouldn’t have to resort to the school bathroom.
- Ask teachers to provide positive support and encouragement, especially if your child seems anxious. Also ensure that a staff member is always available to them, so that they know who to ask for help.
* From Dr Carrihill, Jenny Russell and diabetes educator Kate Bristow.
Remember: Your child should always have their medical info and emergency contact details on hand: an ICE band or MedicAlert bracelet will do the trick. Find out more at www.medicalert.co.za
Make sure your child’s backpack always has:
– Testing equipment (a glucose monitor, lancets and strips).
– Insulin in a small cooler bag.
– A quick-acting sugary food or drink (like Super Cs).
– A glucagon emergency kit for severely low blood sugar emergencies: be sure to show teachers and older friends how to use it!
Join the community: Does your child have diabetes? Come and talk to us about it at www.facebook.com/DiabeticSouthAfricans