Should diabetics be special?

By | 5 September, 2012
This lot probably wouldn't please your typical diabetic.

This lot probably wouldn’t please your typical diabetic.

For the purposes of ego inflation, I like to think I am special. Most people are in some way. But is it a good thing to be seen as special just because of my broken pancreas?

Having experienced the thrill, excitement and reassurance of attending events for kids with diabetes, both as a pancreatically challenged child and now as a slightly over emotional adult  I have a blinkered view of these events. I love them. But has my overwhelming enthusiasm blinded me to the risks of these events?

Neville raved about the East of England Paediatric Diabetes Games the other week. He’s a very sensible dog and I agreed with every word he wrote. But over on Facebook, one of our readers didn’t. We like it when people do that, it does us good to be knocked off our internet based soapbox every now and again.

She made an interesting point. By holding special games for diabetic kids, are we sending a message to the world that they’re different? That they can’t compete on an equal footing with the pancreatically privileged? Are we doing these kids a disservice by making them out to be special? Poor Jimmy needs 4 injections a day to stay alive and if we don’t count his breakfast carbs correctly he’ll keel over halfway through the 800m or may even attack you with his javelin. Best for all concerned that we let the diabetics play together. And don’t ever pick one for your school sports team, they’re a liability. I mean, look at Sir Steve Redgrave and Gary Mabbutt, what did they ever achieve?

None of this had ever crossed my mind. To me these events are a massive learning and confidence building opportunity, wrapped up in a thick layer of fun. For kids and parents wary of walking the insulin/exercise tightrope it’s a chance to experiment in a safe environment, to swap tips and to be inspired by what others in your situation can do.

But the press always cover these events by talking in a slightly patronising manner about how brave these children are. Normally with an over-dressed reporter standing in the rain looking frankly amazed that such sick children can even make it out of bed in a morning, never mind run round a track. Doesn’t that undo all the campaigning we do protesting that diabetics can do anything because we will master that delinquent pancreas rather than be controlled and defined by it?

This is where we get into the territory of how hard it is to please a diabetic . We want you to know that diabetes is serious, we need you to dip into your pockets and fill the bottomless research and support coffers. But we also need you to know that we can do pretty much anything we set our minds to. And we really need diabetic kids to think that so that they’ll grow up confident and ready to take over the world.

So, you’ll be surprised to hear that I still come out massively in favour of “special” events. I can see the risk of making it look like diabetics can’t compete on a level playing field, which I hadn’t even considered before. But I think it’s a risk worth taking. Because the benefits of these events are so significant for the people involved.

What do you think?

Category: Living with diabetes Tags: ,

About Alison

Diagnosed with Type One in 1983 at the age of four, Alison's been at this for a while now. She uses Humalog in a combined insulin pump and continuous glucose monitoring system and any blood glucose meter as long as it takes five seconds or less.

10 thoughts on “Should diabetics be special?

  1. brian

    The only worthwhile answer is from the kids and their parents.

    My experience is that it removes/reduces the isolation of being the only one in the school/class that injects.

    Don’t do Facebook so not seen the comment. But from what the article says I understand where she is coming from but you need to look at the whole picture. The games reduce isolation and build the confidence of the kid and the parent that you can do everything – the parents and kids are being trained to compete in the real world ie for proper jobs not sportsmen like Mabbutt and Redgrave; and that is vital.

    No work leads to poverty; poverty leads to poor health.

  2. Annette A

    i agree with @brian because you need to start somewhere, letting kids know that they are not alone. Having ‘diabetic’ games/camps/whatever can give a child the knowledge that s/he can do anything. Once they have that knowledge/experience, then they can go on and conquer the world (or whatever it is they feel like doing). After all, look at Oscar Pistorius (spelling?) – he started just competing as a disabled athlete, then went on to compete pretty successfully in the Olympic games.

  3. Alison Post author

    So these events are basically training camps to equip diabetic kids to take over the world. Excellent. Our world domination plans are still on track.

  4. Helen Bailey

    I think that any opportunity to get our children out doing sports and feeling normal for a short time is well worth it. I know what you mean about the presenter though..the sad voice, and our ‘brave children’ doesn’t ring true somehow, we all know they are stars and can do anything but at least it is getting the message out that it is a disability and needs to be treated with respect.

  5. Alison Post author

    @helvelyn That’s a whole new can of worms – is it a disability? Technically I know it can be under the Disability & Discrimination Act 2012, but as someone with well controlled Type 1 and no complications I’d never say what I have is a disability. Which means we leave the poor public with an even more confused message – sometimes diabetes can be a disability, but not for all of us. What do others think?

  6. Dave

    I think this is a ‘your diabetes may vary’ occasion. For me I’m not disabled. Nup. Not a chance. I have a ‘condition’ that needs control but do not feel that being a person with diabetes stops me doing anything or, dis-ables me. And after reading the latest Balance even joining the police is no longer out of bounds for us stabbers.
    However, chuck in a few complications and suddenly being ‘able’ diminishes. But is it the diabetes that disables or the lack of eyesight, limbs etc?
    I’ll respect others views on how they view their own situation but I’m not disabled and don’t have a disability.

    I concur with @brian and @annette that if this encourages the participants to go on and compete amongst non-diabetics then it’s been a success. It has to be about confidence and the belief that anything is possible.

  7. Peter Childs

    I think the important point here is we are Special and aspire to be even more Special; There is no such thing as Normal or Average or Ok. Its like that Car advert…. The one thing that is NOT Ok is Ok.

    Diabetes camps inspire kids that while they have an added challenge its not a going to stop them from doing what they want to do and being who they want to be. It helps educate them in how to combat that challenge. And Redgrave and others are great example of this, happy to own up to having Diabetes and quite happy to set an example and show what Diabetics really can do.

    The Disability Discrimination act is about the fact we can’t being Discriminated against because of our medical problems. It has nothing to do with a “Disability” but more about Rights just like the Similar Gay Right, Race Rights etc…… It forces people to examine us on our Merits not our Medical Problems….

    There are many groups with Medical Problems who don’t wish to be seen as “Disabled” we are not the only one…. But if we don’t acknowledge our problems and our challenges, we are putting down our successes. Jonnie Peacock is the fastest man on earth with a artificial leg, but we don’t put him down because he is much slower than Usain Bolt.

  8. Tim

    I think diabetes should be treated as a full blown disability. I always get dirty looks when I park my car across three disabled parking slots at the supermarket when stopping to pick up more beer and crisps; if diabetes was a proper disability I could get one of them there blue disabled parking stickers and so park my Porsche in peace!

  9. Meagan

    Maybe a compromise … a disability when it would be nice if someone cut me some slack … ie whip out that “give me a break” card at the airport when they want to charge me an extra $300 for an extra bag full of medical junk and when someone is an ignoramus telling me they won’t let me dive despite a license, doctor’s note and dive log book, you flip the “give me a break” card over and it says “diabetics have super powers … don’t make me use them on you.”. As for the special “camps”/games etc. I think they are fine … camp is where I learned my best tricks from others … important things like the ease of injecting through your jeans when you are too lazy to take them down, and that chocolate, marshmallows and graham crackers cooked on the campfire is an important part of the diabetic food regime, etc. The real benefit of these “special” groups, kind of like this one, is breaking down the sense of isolation and creating connections with others who “get it”. (However, it should be open season on the bleeding heart presenters who talk about the “brave children” … jeesh!)

    1. Alison Post author

      I’ll take one of those “give me a break” cards please.

      I got shouted at at camp for teaching someone how to inject through their jeans. I offered a compromise of injecting through your pocket lining into your stomach because it’s a thinner material than the denim, but that didn’t seem to help much.


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