When to Grant Independence to a Child With Diabetes?



That whole independence thing 2At the end of this past summer, the four of us went to an alumni weekend at the sleepaway camp in the Adirondacks where I spent 8 wonderfully fun and formative summers, first as a camper and then as a counselor. It’s hard to convey how much I loved this camp—the horses we’d ride and take care of, the huge organic garden we’d tend and harvest, the freedom to choose whatever great activity we wanted to try, from hiking to swimming, pottery, weaving, going on “mud runs” on rainy days, to just hanging out by the beautiful lake at sunset looking up at the clouds. The food was great too. Wholesome, though in retrospect, carb-filled. At every breakfast, homemade rolls that we’d cover with honey; at every lunch, homemade bread that we’d slather with butter; on special occasions, strawberry shortcake or chocolate pudding with whipped cream.

We spent a weekend there this summer because we wanted to give our son, Jamie, a chance to check it out, to see about going there in the summer of 2015 (he’s going). Out of curiosity, I asked one of the people who led the camp if it could work for someone with type 1 diabetes. I didn’t think it would—this is a camp where kids sleep alone in tents without a counselor, where they can choose all their own activities and need to get themselves there without counselor oversight, where they go on 3-day trips into the wilderness, and where there are two nurses for a camp of close to 200. But I just wanted to see what she’d say. “We tried that once,” she told me, “and it really didn’t work, even though the child’s mom was working at the camp. You know, that whole independence thing.”

That whole independence thing—that’s what this camp is built on. But granting independence does not mesh well with T1D. I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently, now that Bisi is wanting and pushing for more independence in all aspects of her life. (She’s only 8—I know that this is nothing compared to what the teenage years will bring.) She’s wanting to go over to friends’ houses and manage her insulin and snacks (with an adult looking over her shoulder, but without me there to help calculate). Although she’s assiduous about testing herself and giving herself insulin, she tends to undercount the carbs and come home significantly higher than I’d like. She’s wanting to walk home alone at the end of the day—but this means a check in with me or the school nurse first to see where her blood sugar is. And she wants to go to diabetes sleep away camp this summer, where she’ll probably learn a whole set of tools and skills that will help her to be more independent in terms of diabetes.

I always hoped that my kids would go to my old camp, and love it as much as I did. As it turns out, one of them can’t. But while Jamie will be experiencing the same burst of independence I did when I first left home for camp, Bisi will be at a different type of camp, working on her own kind of independence.

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7 years ago

I am glad I found this blog because my daughter was just diagnosed with diabetes four months ago. She will celebrate her 8th birthday on January 24th, and I can tell she wants more independence to a certain level. For example, she wants to calculate her carbs, which is fine with me but I still get nervous. She’s been diabetic for only four months, so things are still new to us.
I am lucky that she doesn’t like spending the night at her friends’ houses, but I can only pray we have a smooth transition during those teenager years :)

Sara oaks
Sara oaks
7 years ago

My grandson, Cory, who just turned 8 , went to Diabetes weekend camp 1 hour away last summer and loved it. I loved that he could be with other kids with diabetes , as well as experience some of the same excitement outdoors that I did at camp when I was young. the year before didn’t work out, and this past year he was ready.. And we were too. His mother has let him walk home from school after a nurse check and give himself shots, earlier than I would have been ready to but he’s seemed to have done… Read more »

7 years ago

Don’t write it off yet, she’s only 8. My T1D boyfriend went to sleepaway tennis camp when he was 11 and I have talked to T1D boyscouts who went on backpacking trips for days in the woods. What looks impossible right now might not seem so bad in a few years.

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