What Gay Dads Should Know About Diabetes

We wanted to shed some light on how to take care of a child that is diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, and the role that exercise plays into that.

Type 1 Diabetes (T1D) often affects those in the LGBT+ community a bit differently than it does others. Treatment for this disease requires a commitment to care from both the medical community and those living with the disease. The healthcare system can be intimating to LGBT+ patients and families, however trust and openness with your doctor is critical to successful disease management.  A lack of support and trust can lead to added stress, complications, and poor T1D outcomes. It’s important to understand how type 1 diabetes can affect your child and to know the lifestyle changes that are necessary if they’ve recently been diagnosed. That way you’ll have a better idea of what to expect and what changes are normal as they develop. Let’s support this month of national diabetes education by learning how your children can live an active and healthy lifestyle if they are diagnosed with T1D.

Causes and Symptoms of Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes, previously known as as juvenile diabetes, is an autoimmune disease that destroys the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin.  Insulin is they key hormone that regulates blood glucose by moving sugar from inside the blood stream to inside the cells.  Without insulin, the sugar stays in the blood and can’t be utilized as a source of energy. High blood sugar values can lead to an acute, life threatening condition called diabetic ketoacidosis. Over long periods of time, high blood sugars can cause heart disease or damage to the kidneys, retinas (eyes), and nerves.

T1D affects 5%of all of people living with diabetes. However, in children and adolescents, T1D makes up 95% of the cases and each year  about 18,500 people under 20 are diagnosed with this disease. Risk factors for T1D are increased if the child has a family member who also suffers from the disease, has certain genes, or if your child is from a northern climate, however, their behaviors are a non-factor in developing the disease. T1D is NOT caused by eating too much sugar, or by any known exposure.  T1D is a “bad luck” disease.

Early detection is crucial for your child’s health, as these effects develop rapidly and can quickly become severe. It’s important that parents and caregivers know the warning signs of T1D. If you notice your child is urinating frequently or suddenly bedwetting, is constantly thirsty, suddenly loses weight, is extremely fatigued, or has fruity-smelling breath, then you should take them to see a doctor as soon as possible.

Unfortunately, Type 1 diabetes is unpreventable and incurable.  Despite our understanding of the cause of T1D, research is still ongoing to sort out why the immune system starts the attack on the pancreas, and how to stop it. . While T1D can appear at any age, it is far more common in children and young adults. This is different from type 2 diabetes, which usually appears in adults and is known to be caused by unhealthy lifestyle habits. 

Adopting a Child with Type 1 Diabetes

It is unlikely that you will come across a  child Living with diabetes during your adoption search. However, it is possible that your child may develop T1D once they’re under your care. Because many gay couples adopt their children, they often may not have access to the child’s genetic information— limiting their ability to know their child’s risk factors of developing type 1 diabetes.

Taking care of a child who is diagnosed with T1D is a task that requires a team approach from the child, their parents, and their healthcare team. The goal is to keep your child’s blood sugar relatively stable since levels that are too high or too low can be dangerous. This is achieved by consistently checking the child’s blood sugar levels, and administering insulin as necessary. Thankfully, new technologies like insulin pumps and continuous glucose monitors help ease the burden of diabetes. However, they still require close attention and constant monitoring to ensure safety.

Contrary to popular belief, there are very few foods/drinks that children living with T1D should avoid. A well balanced diet, with close attention to the carbohydrate content is the most important aspect of dietary management in T1D. You should encourage your child to eat healthy foods the same way you would a  child not living with diabetes.

All people living with T1D require insulin injection to manage their diabetes. The amount and timing of insulin doses depend on the foods eaten, activity level, and current blood sugar levels. These calculations are done multiple times each day, and can be intimidating for those not familiar with insulin dosing. In some rare circumstances, children may be on other blood sugar lowering medications if directed by their doctor.

Encouraging an Active Lifestyle

We all know the importance of living an active lifestyle. This is even more important for children with type 1 diabetes. It’s crucial for their development, boosts their self-esteem, and can even prevent further complications like heart disease.

Exercise is also a great tool for your child to help manage their diabetes. Staying active improves insulin’s action, which helps them keep their blood sugar under control. With proper monitoring of blood glucose levels, kids with T1D can engage in all normal exercise, including running, riding a bike around the neighborhood, and playing sports. You can help get them excited to work out by including the whole family in their exercise plans.

The important thing to remember is the timing of meals and insulin doses. The body will become more sensitive to insulin and burn through the sugar in the body much more quickly when you’re engaging in physical activity. This could lead to low blood sugars (hypoglycemia) that may cause lightheadedness, weakness, headaches, fainting, and seizures if left untreated for too long. Your child’s diabetes team will help you learn how to plan out meals and medicines around your child’s activity.

As your child ages and becomes more independent at managing their T1D, it’s important that they understand the severity of not sticking to their treatment schedule. Teenagers may be tempted to skip meals or use other food avoidant strategies in an attempt to lose weight or get a better workout. However, these strategies can result in dangerously low or high blood sugar levels. Work with them so that they know how to properly care for themselves before they start any rigorous activity such as organized sports or start driving

In order to keep a fun time from turning into an emergency, always keep snacks, water, and emergency sugar raising medication nearby just in case your child’s sugar drops too low. Make sure that your child’s coaches and supervisors are aware that your kid has T1D, and knows how to actin the event of an emergency. Encourage your child to be honest about when they need to stop and take care of their needs. Lastly, make sure that your child is always wearing medical identification, and has their testing equipment and medications nearby..

Children with type 1 diabetes can and should live a normal life so long as their blood sugar is managed properly. With a little preparation and planning, your child can live a healthy and active lifestyle!

Do you have any experience caring for someone with type 1 diabetes? Get in touch with us and let us know.


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