BACKGROUND: When children with type 1 diabetes approach adolescence, they are encouraged to become more involved in diabetes self-management. This study explored the challenges pre-adolescent children encounter when self-managing diabetes and the factors which motivate and enable them to take on new diabetes-related tasks. A key objective was to inform the support offered to pre-adolescent children.
METHODS: In-depth interviews using age-appropriate questioning with 24 children (aged 9-12 years) with type 1 diabetes. Data were analysed using an inductive, thematic approach.
RESULTS: Children reported several barriers to taking on self-management tasks. As well as seeking respite from managing diabetes, children described relying on their parents to: perform the complex maths involved in working out carbohydrate content in food; calculate insulin doses if they did not use a bolus advisor; and administer injections or insert a cannula in hard-to-reach locations. Children described being motivated to take on diabetes tasks in order to: minimise the pain experienced when others administered injections; alleviate the burden on their parents; and participate independently in activities with their peers. Several also discussed being motivated to take on diabetes-management responsibilities when they started secondary school. Children described being enabled to take on new responsibilities by using strategies which limited the need to perform complex maths. These included using labels on food packaging to determine carbohydrate contents, or choosing foods with carbohydrate values they could remember. Many children discussed using bolus advisors with pre-programmed ratios and entering carbohydrate on food labels or values provided by their parents to calculate insulin doses. Several also described using mobile phones to seek advice about carbohydrate contents in food.
CONCLUSIONS: Our findings highlight several barriers which deter children from taking on diabetes self-management tasks, motivators which encourage them to take on new responsibilities, and strategies and technologies which enable them to become more autonomous. To limit the need to perform complex maths, children may benefit from using bolus advisors provided they receive regular review from healthcare professionals to determine and adjust pre-programmed insulin-to-carbohydrate ratios. Education and support should be age-specific to reflect children's changing involvement in self-managing diabetes.