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July 28, 2000


Question from Akron, Ohio, USA:

My son has Type 1 diabetes. He was diagnosed during the middle of first grade. He seemed to struggle with school after the diagnosis and all through second grade. Could his diabetes affect his school work performance and focus? If so, what do you suggest?


From: DTeam Staff

There is quite a bit of data suggesting that children with diabetes are at increased risk for learning disabilities, but these data concern children who have had diabetes for more than a year. Although the reason for this increased risk is not completely understood, children with multiple severe low blood sugars and/or children who have had a hypoglycemic seizure are at the greatest risk. If your son has suffered from many severe lows, it is vital that you speak with your diabetes team about ways to prevent them.

The other issue to consider (which has nothing to do with diabetes at all), is that most learning disabilities are caught in second grade, when the academic demands increase and the expectations for independent work increase. So, whether your son’s struggles in school are a result of living with diabetes or a result of some other difficulties in processing and managing the demands of school, he needs to have a complete evaluation. Many schools have psychologists that can do learning disabilities evaluations and you may wish to ask your school to test your son. You may also wish to ask your diabetes team for a referral to a psychologist or neuropsychologist, familiar with children with diabetes, who can evaluate your son.

School should be exciting for all children, and learning new things should be a thrill. If your child does not look at school with enthusiasm, then an evaluation is necessary before he is completely turned off by school, before his motivation to persist decreases, and before he thinks he is not a skilled learner.

Additional comments from Dr. Donough O’Brien:

Perhaps too you should ask the doctor about a thyroid test.