Letting Go: Sending a Young Adult with Diabetes to College


I remember it like it was a minute ago: that moment I pulled away from the college dorm, leaving my daughter with diabetes in Washington DC, 500 miles from home. I’d spent hours helping her arrange her room, and her diabetes supplies were tucked back under her bed in the cool containers I’d purchased just for them. She was prepared for diabetes, or as she said, “This is great, Mom! If every person with diabetes in the greater DC area happens to be in my room and need something for a high or a low, we’re all set!”

But was she? What about the things I could not pack in easy-to-manage containers under her bed? What about common sense? Dedication? Smarts about all she needed not just in college life but in college life with diabetes on board? As I pulled away and she grew smaller and smaller in the rear-view mirror I realized that it was time for me to trust. And hope.

My daughter, on her own, decided how she would handle college. It was (as her adult endocrinologist drove home to me earlier that summer) her time to fly. And to let her fly, I had to let her make her own decisions, come up with her own plan (with input of course) and yes, let her possibly make mistakes.

It was terrifying.

I remember this now many parents are taking their own kids with diabetes to college for the first time. There’s been a lot of online chatter in parent groups about just how to do it. Does a 504 carry over? Should a child file with the disabilities office? Does a roommate need to know how to administer glucagon?

I share with other parents that I let my daughter – with input from me and her medical team of course – make diabetes decisions on her own, and that I wasn’t happy about all of them. But here’s why it was the right thing to do: College is about figuring out how to make it in the real world. It’s a safe little world where you practice for the real world. And if I did not let her practice, I thought, how would she be ready for that real world?

Here are some choices she made, how I felt about them and how they turned out.

*She did not use a 504 or file with disabilities.

Her reason: “It’s time for me to practice being ready for life with diabetes on board. I’m ready to remove some of the safety nets.” My preference would have been for her to file. I mean, what could it hurt? And what if she got really sick or needed something?

The result: Everything was absolutely fine.

*She did not tell professors she has diabetes ahead of time:

Her feeling: there comes a time when you have to kind of live with it in the wild. “Mom, I don’t tell the flight attendants I have diabetes when I get on a plane. This I did not mind. Her thoughts made sense to me.

The result: in one each student had to choose a cause they were passionate about, research it, and try to persuade the class to support it. The class would vote on the best one and that cause would get a donation (and the student an A). Guess what Lauren chose? Her story of growing up with diabetes and the daily struggles that come with it blew everyone away.

In his notes the professor told her, “That’s the only time I’ve ever cried in class.”

*She did not share her blood sugars with me regularly.

This was strongly encouraged by her endocrinologist, who pointed out that she had learned all she needed to and the only way I would know she’d learned was to let her go. I could not imagine not knowing, but in a way, she and I were both ready.

The result: once my nagging and my poking disappeared, there was more room in her brain to hear her own internal nagging and poking. And she responded. Knowing her blood sugars and trends became something she owned, not something I shoved at her. And the result was fabulous.

I did have some demands for her though, but I made them general. What I said to her was this: I expect you to come home in relatively good health and with relatively decent grades. It is up to you to define that.

The result: I sent her off to college with a low GPA and high A1c. She came home with a high GPA and a low A1c. I call that a win.

Today she’s a graduate and working full time (as well as starting grad school). She has a job that demands much of her in many ways, and she rocks it. I am confident that letting her drive the college decisions is part of the reason.

I did have one other demand though, that was a non-negotiable: I wanted to hear from her every morning. I did not tell her why, but fellow D-parents know why.

So the next morning, from 500 miles away, came the text that would come each morning for the coming four years. “Hi Mom! Just letting you know I’m not dead!”

For more information about college life and diabetes, visit the College Diabetes Network.

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7 years ago

My son is a college senior and he still texts his BGs to me occasionally even though I didn’t ask. He knows I worry and respects that. I did have him sign up with the disabilities office to protect him if he has ketones or a low and can’t take a test. (he’s never had to delay a test) It also allows him to schedule classes before everyone else, due to needing to eat at specific times. (Use this reason to make things work for you) That is a huge advantage so he always gets the classes, sections, times and… Read more »

7 years ago

Thank you for your wonderful words – on week 3 on my daughter’s freshman year away at college. So happy to hear from others on the journey

7 years ago

Loved this article! Thank you so much! I just sent my son 400 miles away to college and your article came at the perfect time for me!

7 years ago

I can’t tell you how much this article touched me. My daughter texts me every morning and we only have one year to go! Thank you for sharing your light at the end of the tunnel and the important message about letting them work it out themselves. T1D parents need to know they’re not alone in their worry and that its ok. Thank you.

7 years ago

Wow. So impressed. Tucking this away. I’ve got ten years left.

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