It can be quite hard as a parent of a type 1 diabetic superhero, to know whether they are having a tantrum because they can’t get their own way, or whether they are hitting their brother because their sugar levels have gone through the floor. In my previous article, Appraisals, hidden disabilities and me, I attempted to give a flavour of the rollercoaster ride of adjusting to life with a type 1 pre-schooler. This time I wanted to delve a little deeper to help explain some of the practical challenges of managing hypo episodes in a young child.
Hypo is shorthand for hypoglycaemia and it’s when blood glucose (sugar) levels in people who live with type 1 diabetes become too low. If it is not treated it can lead to unconsciousness and in extreme cases may even prove fatal.
So how can you tell the difference between hypo and tantrum? To be honest we are nearly two years into this journey and we still have moments where we struggle to see the difference between the two. We have to deal with hypos on a day-to-day basis due to her young age. In fact, as I type this we are going through a particularly intense period of hypos: she has had at least three today. The signs of a hypo in our little lady can vary from becoming very whiny, sometimes angry and stroppy and sometimes hitting out. Does that sound like a tantrum to you, or is it a hypo? Of course, when you see her eyes rolling then there’s no question, but thankfully this doesn’t happen very often as it can be sobering to watch.
I don’t want to take away the seriousness of hypos but, you sometimes find yourself saying unimaginable sentences such as:
“You better be hypo young lady because if you aren’t you are going straight to your room for hitting your brother.”
The only way to be certain as to whether it’s a hypo or tantrum is to do a finger prick test. This is a pin prick to extract blood that is inserted into a glucose meter in order to give a glucose reading. If it’s below 4 (the ideal numbers being between 4 and 7) then you are in hypo territory and you need to act quickly.
For any young child it can be hard for them to know they are about to go hypo. But even at the young age of four, our little lady is getting better at recognising a hypo. She is particularly good at spotting the symptoms when she is at her nursery; at home she’s perhaps more relaxed and so less aware that a hypo is on its way. However, like any other child she’s also getting better at working out that if she tells us she feels funny (even if she’s not), a jelly baby might be on the cards. Jelly babies? Yes, jelly babies are her quick fix medicine if we need to bring her to a normal level, which should take around 10 to 20 minutes.
Once we’ve done the test and if it’s showing she is low we quite often see a smile of delight on her face. You might think that a sign of relief as we confirm that her feelings were right. But it’s probably because she has a jelly baby coming her way. After her quick fix medicine, we sit and have a cuddle.
Hypos can be distressing to see — particularly at the start. But they are actually a way of making you stop and take stock of the most important things in your life as you wait for your sleepy and confused little lady to wake up and come around. As parents we can never truly understand the feeling of a hypo, but we can do our best to make sure she is safe, well and can get back to annoying her brother as soon as possible.
In summary the answer to the question, is it a tantrum or a hypo? is that we are still going to be asking ourselves this question many times until we do a finger prick test.
I write about caring for an amazing child who is type 1 diabetic as well as writing children’s fiction. This article is also posted on Medium