You know you have really great people in your life when you get a call that goes like this: “Therese, my 13-year-old son’s good friend was just diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. Can you help me understand this disease and what I can offer the family to help them through this difficult time?” She said she thought about giving them a cookbook. This is the typical gift that someone buys for a family with a newly diagnosed child. Because they often don’t understand diabetes and, honestly, no one truly does unless they or their child has it. It’s a chronic illness that is complicated, challenging, confusing, doesn’t obey by the rules, has no rhyme-or-reason and is very difficult to grasp.
A diabetes cookbook is a thoughtful gift, but maybe more so for someone with type 2 diabetes. Diet and exercise can help reverse the effects of type 2. This isn’t the case for type 1 diabetes, as it’s an autoimmune disease which destroys the beta cells in the pancreas that produce insulin.
I started thinking about what a thoughtful gift would be for someone recently diagnosed with diabetes and went right to the source for some suggestions: one of my favorite type 1 diabetes parenting groups within the diabetes online community on Facebook.
The overwhelming response was the same: be a shoulder to lean on and a good listener. Here are some of the other thoughtful ideas and ways you can be a good support system to a family with a newly-diagnosed child:
- A food scale that has different modes, like weight in grams for carbohydrate counting. These can be expensive, so maybe go in on it with another family.
- Depending on the age of the child, a teddy bear to hug while getting those first pokes.
- Different, fun measuring cups to measure everything that the child eats now.
- Candy and juice pouches for low blood sugars. Choose sugary-type candy over chocolate, because chocolate is higher in fat and can take longer to raise blood sugar levels.
- 15-gram carb snacks like granola bars. This amount is important, because it’s the size of snack that most endocrinologists let the kids have during the first months of diagnosis.
- Small (purse-size) notebook or journal for keeping track of blood sugar numbers or information that you don’t want to forget. Remember we are sleep deprived!
- A calculator (most phones already have them) for counting carbs and insulin doses.
- A book like Dr. Beverly Adler’s “My Sweet Life” series, which is about successful women and men with diabetes.
I also asked some other parents of children with type 1 diabetes for more recommendations. Here are some of the great ideas they had to offer:
Jenny: “Just an ear that will listen. When my son was diagnosed back in March that’s what I needed…someone to just listen to my fears and anxiety.”
Julie: “Best of all though are the friends who do offer to learn so the child can still go to play dates and feel like a normal kid. It may seem like a lot to remember for them, but we are always just a phone call away so we can walk them through the details and answer even the smallest question.”
Helen: “A promise to learn the basics so she or he can have some ‘me time’ and know their child is safe.”
Julie: “Be willing to ask a lot of questions, listen well and learn about the disease.”
Jodi: “I love my dry erase board for calculating and writing carbs for dinner and then my son can choose what he wants to eat.”
Nikki: “A friend who knows the basics.”
Kelly: “A baby monitor so you can hear them during the night just in case. Or if old enough (like my 13-year-old), he texts me if he wakes up low – I sleep with my phone under my pillow.”
Sue: “Coffee and a shoulder, and a hand to hold.”
The overwhelming response was for a friend to listen, hold our hands and learn about the disease so our kids feel like other kids – not isolated because they never get invited to anyone’s house or other functions.
Thanks to all the moms and dads out there that contributed to this list. And to the friend that started the conversation, because she was being all of the things that we mentioned here: a good friend! Andrea, thanks.