There are two main types of diabetes named type I and type II. Type I is rarer, it is found in about 10% of people with diabetes and is the one more common with children. The immune system destroys the body’s insulin-producing cells in the pancreas and lack of insulin can cause the body to starve. The result is that the body can no longer break down food properly and use its energy.
The cause of type I diabetes is multidimensional. The person must have a genetic predisposition but it is usually triggered by some factor in the environment like a virus for example. The symptoms range from excessive thirst, to excessive urination, excessive hunger, weight loss, fatigue, blurred vision, high blood sugar level, sugar and ketones in the urine and for girls vaginal yeast infections (even in infants or toddlers). Treatment consists of daily injections of insulin but you must be careful because in the beginning the person may feel he doesn’t need insulin but he/she must continue to use the treatment.
Parents are often unsure how to deal with their child’s disease and some parents’ avoid telling the child altogether. The problem with this is that children know. They notice when they are being treated differently and they will notice when they have to go to doctor’s that neither their sibling nor their friends go. Many parents don’t want to burden the child with the information about their condition but the problem is that if you don’t offer children an explanation then they will make one up for themselves that may be completely unrealistic.
You’re right though if you think that children won’t understand that they have an autoimmune deficiency which breaks down their insulin, producing cells, however you can simplify your information so that it includes real facts but at a level that you can build on. When you teach children math you teach them first the most important and basic things, the addition and subtraction, and then you keep adding until you get to advanced pre-calculus. Most importantly you must explain to children how it affects their life on a day to day basis: what they can or can’t eat, when they will take their injection, etc.
The younger the child the more concrete the explanation must be so you can use diagrams or toys to try and explain. You will also have to repeat especially if your child is tense then his concentration and understanding will be reduced. This is why you should pick your moments, for example talking to your son or daughter five minutes before he/she goes into the doctor’s office for an injection is not a good time. If you open channels of communication then your child will come and talk to you whenever he or she has questions and you can let them decide how much they need to know.
Another important thing that will help children cope is giving them some control even in very simple decisions such as who gives them the injection, or what time they think would be good, who knows about their diabetes. You may be surprised by how much a child can understand and if you need help with the information then you can ask your doctor to tell you and you can then find a way to tell it to your child that is appropriate.