I Am Not Sure I'm Ready for My Son to Go to College


Last weekend we made a visit to the college my son will be attending in the fall. It was “Accepted Students Day” and the school had kindly arranged tours and a gym full of tables representing all of the services available to the students.

As we toured the engineering labs, my son stared mesmerized at the robots doing tasks students had programmed them to do and machines testing tensile strength and that sort of thing. I stayed at the back of the group, having no idea about anything that our tour guides were saying. I was only waiting to visit the student services tables.

When finally we got to the gym, I went to the Student Health Service table, the Residence Life table, The Disabilities table — only to hear the same thing at each one, “We don’t provide support for students with Type 1 Diabetes.”

What? How can this be? This is a large, well known university. Surely I am not the first parent who has worried about what a 19-year-old is going to do at night regarding his blood sugars. Surely I am not the first one to wonder whether a kid with a chronic condition and sensors which alarm all the time should have a roommate with a similar condition or a roommate without. Surely I was not the first mother to worry about whether my son might go low in the night and not wake up to correct his blood sugar, who might have a seizure — or worse!

Of course, like many parents of children with a chronic condition, I am not unfamiliar with a lack of services. Over the years I have sought out distant services for my son, started services myself, educated teachers and coaches, administrators, camp counselors, etc. But this time is different. This time I will not be a phone call away. This time I cannot talk to each professor, residence advisor or sports team organizer. This time, I will be the mother of a college student who is far away and on his own for the very first time.

Yes, he has gone to camp overnight — but it was diabetes camp. And yes, he has gone away on school trips — but I have educated the teachers going with him and they have been willing to get up in the night to make sure he remembers to test himself at several hour intervals. Once, when he went away to a conference, I had to wake up one of the adults who was on the trip since my son was not responding to my phone calls to remind him to test.

I am not a helicopter parent. I imagine some people think that. What people don’t know about Type 1 diabetes — except people who are parents of children with it or who have it themselves — is that Type 1 is a 24/7 job. Blood sugars can go high or low at any time based on what you have eaten, how much you have exercised, whether you are sick with a cold and whether you remembered to give yourself insulin or not the last time you had a snack. There is no vacation from Type 1, no night when you can just go to sleep and forget about the whole thing.

There is a syndrome which every parent of a child with Type 1 Diabetes knows about and no parent wants to think about. It is called “Dead in Bed Syndrome.” This is when someone, often a child, goes to bed, experiences a very low blood sugar in the night, does not receive remediation (sugar) and dies in his or her sleep.

This is what I try not to think about in regard to my son going to college. I believe I have prepared him to study well, do his own laundry, even to cook a bit for himself. But waking up at night to test his blood sugar? This is a place where I am an utter failure. I am trying every night to get him to remember to set his alarm. I am here to urge him to wake up when his alarm does not wake him and to stand at the door of his room until he tests his blood sugar and corrects himself if he is too high or low. But still he often does not follow through.

We have four months until college starts. Do I pull the plug on this whole thing if he does not start to take more responsibility? Do I urge the college to put something in place to support my son and students like him? Do I let him go and call him every night? Or do I let him go and just live with the worry?

What would you do?

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