The Question May Sound Insensitive (or Plain Stupid)

When’s the best time to get Type 1 diabetes?


Let me set up the context here. Last night I had a discussion with my wife about a topic that, when you hear where I took the conversation, may make me sound like a jerk. But hear me out.

Kathryn told me that a friend’s eight-month-old child had just been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, and wasn’t that sad? I agreed. However, our minds went to different places. For Kathryn, while she understands what the child has to go through, she approached the news from the parents’ perspective, how difficult this diagnosis is going to be for them to go through: from the initial shock of hearing this about their child, to the learning curve involved, to the caregiving. Not to mention the worrying. I mean, if we had a child with Type 1 (and we don’t have kids), I don’t know how Kathryn could manage it. Oh, she’d be wonderful with her child’s care. But…. She would worry constantly. Constantly. For example, our dog (whom we both love dearly) gets an upset stomach and is off her normal bathroom schedule and vomits a few times in a few days, and Kathryn will wake in the middle of the night, lose sleep, skip work, stress out, and get incredibly existentially sad over our mildly sick pup.

For my part, regarding the infant with diabetes, when she asked me if it was sad, I instead thought about it from the infant’s perspective. I didn’t find it that sad. Unfortunate, yes. But there really isn’t much for an eight-month-old to consider when news like this arrives. Diabetes or not, the kid’s not dealing with the condition on his own, nor dealing with the social ramifications of the illness, not worrying about his care, not wondering how he’ll pay for test strips, insulin, etc. (I’m using “he” because the child was male.)

After we realized we were approaching the news from different angles, I allowed that yes, this is going to be really difficult for the parents. I continued, however, to think about such a diagnosis at eight months, and as I often do, veered off into a what-if, this time about “When is the best time to get Type 1 diabetes?”

Now, all things considered, there is never a good time to get Type 1. However, if you’re going to get Type 1, when would be best?

There are a lot of things to consider if you indulge me the question: socioeconomic status; insurance coverage; the individual’s level of care and self-management of the illness. On and on and on.

However, set aside most of that stuff for the sake of argument and approach it from where I’m approaching it. I would have to think diagnosis as an infant might be better than diagnosis at any other time. For the child. Not the parents. Granted, the later in life you’re diagnosed, the less chance of complications (all other things above taken into consideration as well), but like I said, put that aside.

A child diagnosed at such a young age, let’s say younger than two years, will know nothing other than life with Type 1 diabetes. Isn’t this better than getting the illness when the child is 7, or what about at 13 and adjusting at a time when life’s difficult enough already? Or what about learning of the illness at 18 or 19, just entering college, making a very difficult life transition again? I got the illness at 33, and after the diagnosis, I struggled with the transition to living life as person with diabetes. I knew what it was like to not have to do all of the things I now do. But that infant? This is the only life he’ll know.

There’s much to consider here, and to agree with me you have to realize that I’m throwing a lot of the “against” arguments out the window right off the bat. It’s kind of an absurd question to begin with. Remember that. Yet if you’re still with me, then those of you who’ve been diagnosed later in life, what do you think? And those of you who’ve had Type 1 since before you can remember, any thoughts?

What triggered my thinking about this, in addition to the news of the infant’s diagnosis, was that a former colleague was diagnosed with Type 1 when he was 13 months old. We were of two rather different worlds when it came to talking about some of the issues of living with the illness. After all, as he said to me a couple of times, “I’ve never known anything except a life with diabetes.”

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  • shays

    You are correct on both counts–insensitive and stupid!

  • jim snell


    For all the excellent blogs and good comments, that you do; this is unhelpful, insensitive and off the rails.

    No time is good to catch this problem. Esoteric discssions to contrary miss the point. Please get back on track.

  • Karen

    There is no “better time” to be diagnosed with a chronic disease. Even if a person can’t rememeber a time without diabetes this certainly doesn’t mean they won’t get angry, rebellious, and have periods of denial in their lives regarding their diabetes care. They have eyes to see around them people who do not have to test their BG, take insulin, have regular blood work, watch what they eat, etc.

    I agree with those who commented before me that this ‘debate’ is, among other things, pointless. Look forward to reading posts up to your usual standards.

  • Cathy A.

    I see your point, shays, Jim & Karen. But I agree with Eric. There are documentaries on TV that show people with disabilities who are asked questions like “do you ever miss your arms” [or legs, or having the rest of your body – you get the point: insert what we who were born with all our parts call “missing” to those who weren’t]. The answer is always the same: no. The reasoning is they feel they are “normal” just they way they are because they have never know any other way.

    Eric, is this what you were trying to say? We all adapt to our circumstances and those who were diagnosed with diabetes at a very early age will not have to do the kind of relearning we who were older have had to do.

  • JohnB

    I personally don’t think the question is stupid because I have been thinking about it for many years! I was diagnosed with type one at 6. At 6 years you don’t have any life style changes or things of that nature. It is a new way of life but it seems that you’re too young to think about all of the negitives of the diabetes. Most of the people I know who got it in their teens or later went through major denial issues. The denial also led to more complications than I have ever had! So – in my opinion I am glad that if I am supposed to have diabetes I got it young and not later! I am 50 years young by the way!!

  • Roger


    You are Right On!!! I developed Type 1 when I just turned four. And now, at age 62, I still tell people that I was lucky to “grow up” with all of the sticking, poking, shots and diets! I don’t remember anything else. Thus it was easier than having to change my life style as an adolescent. Of course I was fortunate to have a great family to support me and now have a great wife to continue this support.

    So from your perspective you are correct!!

  • James D.Taylor

    Am I missing something here from several of the above entries related to this posting by Eric? I’ve lived with Type 1 for almost 46 years and was 5 yrs old at point of diagnosis and want to remind folks that the diagnosis back then while frightening to a kid getting sometimes painful blood draws on an every 6 hour basis and gagging while drinking COKE syrup for a Glucose Tolerance Test it was actually my parents, and in particular my Mother who bore the brunt of the trauma and worry that all parents of newly diagnosed Type 1 children endure. Again I remind some of you out there and those who wrote above that in 1965 18 gauge disposable needles were
    considered cutting edge technology and reliable albeit cumbersome glucometers didn’t come into widespread use until the late 1970’s so every time a child left home the fear of severe hypoglycemic reactions fell on the parent and increased with swim meets, football, basketball and baseball practices and games. Pork and beef based insulin derivatives were the only available option until the mid 1970’s and the inflammation and allergic reactions that they sometimes caused at injection sites were another issue that we all had to deal with. My Mother refused to let diabetes stand in my way from doing ANYTHING I had an interest or proclivity towards which for me ended up paying my way through college on an athletic scholarship but the anxiety and stress on she and my parents marriage that were caused by my diagnosis in 1965 can never be underestimated. NO TIME IS GOOD TIME FOR A DIAGNOSIS WITH TYPE 1 DIABETES either for the diabetic or for those who look after and love and care for them. As a father of a now 13 year old daughter, who to this point remains completely healthy, I pray every day for her continued health and well being.

  • lAURIE

    Your right, no time is a good time to be diagnosed, but this is from someone who went from birth to age 11 being “normal”then after diagnosis of diabetes brought on alot of changes.But I am happy to say that I am no longer a diabetic, I recieved a pancreas & kidney transplant 8 years ago and my blood sugars are now in the normal range. And I must say, life is much simpler again. No more urgent trips to the hospital, alot more freedom with my diet and exercise. I was a diabetic for 27 years, it is not an easy life.Maybe someday they will find a cure!

  • Jenn

    Wow, kudos to the new pancreas, Laurie!

    And jeez people, it’s someone’s personal blog… chill out…

    Personally, I am grateful to have had 24 years of “normal” life before being diagnosed. I think anytime after teenage years is best (I can see my past self rebelling and acting crazy had I had it then). I’m lucky enough that I got to play all the sports and eat all the junk and then do all the college drinking and such. And just when life was calming down anyway, I got diagnosed. Not a bad time, if you ask me. Besides, it got my butt exercising before mid-life belly-fat kicked in..