Every parent worries when their children leave the nest for college. With diabetes, there are even more challenges and concerns. Everything can affect blood sugars – from walking across campus and erratic schedules to stress, parties and alcohol.
A little preparation and effective communication can make the experience the exciting rite of passage that it should be.
“The most important thing is to treat your child as a kid going off to college, not the diabetic that you need to have control over,” said Dr. Carol Nudelman Blumberg, a clinical psychologist and a PEP Squad leader, whose daughter, Ashley, was nearly 11 when she was diagnosed in 2000.
Now a graduate of Washington University in St. Louis, Ashley admitted that she was a little nervous at the time, but none of her fears were diabetes-related.
“My parents made sure I was in charge of my own care before I headed to college. We also had a big health center on campus, which made it easy,” said Ashley.
Carol continued, “We tested the waters in high school, and she had proven to be reliable. We had some slip-ups along the way, but we were in a good place.”
Ashley had been on a several trips away from home during her teen years that helped strengthen her parents’ confidence in her ability to communicate with them and care for herself.
“Whatever level of communication currently exists with your child is what you should expect when they leave for college. It’s important to establish a level of trust beforehand.”
Prior to the big move, the Blumberg family sat down together to discuss expectations.
“My husband, Morty, and I told her that she wasn’t going to college without taking the Mastering Your Diabetes course at the DRI. That was a requirement for us paying tuition.” She continued, “I think the best advice is to let them know how you feel and what you hope they will accomplish.”
DRI’s Director of Education Services Kellie Rodriguez, MSN, CDE, CPT,agreed that it’s best to empower budding young adults.
“When a child is diagnosed with diabetes at a young age, the parents are very involved with management. They have to be, and sometimes they stay in that role through the teen years,” said Kellie.
“That’s why the transition to college can be a daunting experience for the teenager who wants that independence and the mom or dad who is having a hard time letting go of the reins.”
Similarly, PEP member Stacey Nagel said that given her son, Jesse, was very independent prior to going to college and had already done some traveling on his own, she felt prepared for the transition. Still, it didn’t stop the overwhelming feelings of worry during those first few weeks.
“I was insane! My biggest fear was he would go low and die,” Stacey stated candidly. “But, I’ve taught him well. He’s living a full life. He’s a lifeguard, the president of Hillel; he’s active and outgoing. I trust him.”
Jesse is a junior and recently transferred to D’Youville College in Buffalo, where he is studying to be a nurse. He was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes 11 years ago.
A few tips from Stacey include making “a box with all of the diabetes supplies and taping all of our emergency phone numbers on the top. We added a sick day box with cold medicine and other necessities. We also made sure the resident advisor knew what to do in case of a low ,and we taught his close friends how to give glucagon,” she said.
“Some parents want their kids to go to a local college, but eventually you have to let go…that’s the hard part. Even now that he’s an adult, I still worry.”
Stacey then confessed, “When he’s home on breaks, I check his blood sugar in the morning while he sleeps in. It gives me peace of mind.”
OTHER TIPS TO SMOOTH THE TRANSITION:
• Know your rights, as a student, in the admissions process, disability services and academic modifications: Diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes/know-your-rights
• Visit CollegeDiabetesNetwork.org for great tips and resources.
• Check out DrinkingwithDiabetes.com for a host of fact sheets, an alcohol IQ quiz and ways to start an open and honest dialogue with your college student.
• Enroll in Mastering Your Diabetes, a five-day, intensive diabetes self-management program that puts YOU at the center of your diabetes management.
• Join the PEP Squad on Facebook for support: Facebook.com/groups/PEPsquadDRI