doctor meeting with diabetic boy

Diabetes I & II in Children


According to the American Diabetes Association, around 210,000 children have diabetes, and more are diagnosed every year. “A child with diabetes needs an adult responsible for his or her care to be with them at all times,” says Dr. Christine Burt Solorzano, an Associate Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Virginia Children’s Hospital, “Meaning that every adult responsible for the child needs to have some basic knowledge of what to look for and do.” Learn the differences of Diabetes I & II in Children and how to best support kids with this disease.


Diabetes I vs. II in Children

Diabetes is a condition in which the body doesn’t adequately produce or use the hormone insulin. Insulin controls glucose levels, a type of sugar that the body’s cells use for energy in the blood. Without enough insulin, cells starve and stop functioning properly. Type I is an autoimmune disorder, where the immune system attacks cells that make insulin. People with Type I diabetes need to take insulin multiple times a day. People with Type II diabetes still make some (but not enough) insulin, and their bodies can’t use it properly. Oftentimes Type II is related to weight, and children are more likely to have Type II if a parent does.

Unlike adults, children need carbohydrates to develop properly and cannot cut carbs from their diet. Children also frequently need to change their insulin doses and nutrition as they grow. Because of this, the American Diabetes Association advises working with a team that specializes in pediatric diabetes to create a daily management plan.

If diabetes isn’t properly controlled, it can affect the kidneys, eyes, heart and feet. Low glucose, known as hypoglycemia, can lead to seizures or a coma, and elevated glucose levels can impair the immune system or lead to a serious condition called diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA). Thus, children need help from adults to stay safe.



How to Support Children With Diabetes

In addition to needing help from parents, teachers, coaches, grandparents, babysitters and even the parents of friends can and should lend a hand. If you are responsible for a child with diabetes, you should be able to assist with checking his glucose levels or giving a rapid-acting sugar if his glucose drops too low. If a child with diabetes eats with you, you will also need to supervise the counting of carbs, checking of blood sugar levels and administering of insulin.

Signs to watch for include: hunger; feeling shaky, sweaty and/or weak; a headache; unusual sleepiness, confusion, seizure or loss of consciousness; behavioral/mood changes; vision changes; and nighttime awakening.

If a child shows warning signs for severe hypoglycemia, you should test the child’s blood glucose. If the blood glucose is less than 70 to 80 mg/dL and the child is alert, give rapid-acting sugar (e.g. drink juice or regular soda, cake gel into cheeks). Repeat every 15 minutes until the blood glucose is normal. Signs to watch for include: hunger; feeling shaky, sweaty and/or weak; a headache; unusual sleepiness, confusion, seizure or loss of consciousness; behavioral/mood changes; vision changes; and nighttime awakening. If the child’s levels don’t respond, call 911.

If a child is showing signs of diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), you will need to seek medical attention. Signs of ketones and acidosis include: thirst and frequent urination from high blood glucose readings; stomachache, nausea or vomiting; rapid breathing; breath that smells fruity; and decreased alertness or consciousness.


How Diabetes Can Impact Mental Health in Children

Children and teens with chronic illnesses may experience higher stress levels than peers or may feel uncomfortable about managing it in public. You should talk openly to help your child learn about diabetes. For younger children, consider speaking to their classmates, with the school’s permission, about diabetes and how it is managed.

Teenagers may be torn between wanting help and wanting to pretend they are just normal. Solorzano says to encourage teens to be independent, while also being active in their care to keep them safe. “Although diabetes is a serious chronic condition,” Solorzano says, “most children and teens can do anything that someone without diabetes can do.”

For more information about helping a child with diabetes, visit the American Diabetes Association at

To see more health-related family content, explore the Health section of our website.


KATHARINE PALJUG is a freelance writer, CharlottesvilleFamily’s Family Health Editor and mother to one busy toddler. 

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