JDRFStoriesA mum’s guide to university and type 1 diabetes

A mum’s guide to university and type 1 diabetes

Author: Liz Stiddard's story | Posted: 17 October 2014

 By Liz Stiddard

Three years ago my daughter went to university. Diagnosed with type 1 diabetes five months before her A Level exams, we’d barely become familiar with the complex condition. Three years on, she’s now graduated and we are immensely proud of her achievement. Diabetes doesn’t make being like any other student easy, but I hope this guide can give some advice to other parents whose son or daughter is off to university in a few weeks.Liz_Stiddard

Keep a ‘diabetes box’

This should contain everything they could possibly need to deal with their type 1 diabetes – all in one place. Uni rooms are small, so it’s a good idea to slide the box under a desk for easy access.

Have spares of everything

Blood glucose testing kits and insulin pens regularly fall out of handbags on nights out or get left in other people’s rooms or kitchens. So tell them to keep spares and then there is no need to panic. Keep additional supplies of insulin and other important kit at home too. You’d be surprised how often they forget bits when they come home for the weekend or end up staying a few extra days.

Sugar and carbs

Stock them up with juice cartons – as many as you can take with you the day they move in and a constant supply when you go to visit. And also stock them up with emergency supplies of carbs – biscuits, jelly babies, energy bars etc. This is important for when their kitchen cupboard is empty.

New friends

Practicalities aside, it is so important for your son or daughter to let their new friends and flat mates know about their type 1 diabetes and how they can help. The friends my daughter made at university have helped her through many hypos on nights out by rushing to the bar to demand emergency cokes. They’ve reminded her to take her evening Lantus, sat up with her into the early hours eating toast because her levels were too low, and sat with her because her levels were too high to go to sleep. Although not wanting to be treated any different to other students or to make an issue about type 1, my daughter never had any problem talking to people about her condition. Everyone she has met at uni has been interested and keen to understand the condition so they can help.

Medical care

She registered with a doctor who understood the university lifestyle. This proved to be very important over the three years, particularly as my daughter took up rowing in her second year at uni. Along with all the gym sessions that went with this, this meant a readjustment of insulin requirements, more support and the introduction of an insulin pump.

Calling home

I always told my daughter to call or text anytime she was worried about her condition. I have had phone calls day and night where all she needed was reassurance that she was doing the right thing, and that her blood sugars would come down eventually. She would follow up with a text an hour later to let me know that they were dropping and this enabled us both to get some sleep. Have faith as they know how to handle it – they just want reassurance and support from the frustrations of dealing with diabetes.


Dropping them a text to remind them to collect their prescriptions is worth it. It may appear to them that you are interfering, but there is not much you can do as a parent if they call you on a Sunday evening to tell you they’ve run out of test strips or insulin.


Do advise them to tell their personal tutor that they have type 1. There will be occasions when they have had a bad few days, and in most cases the tutors understand this.

Stay positive

There will be days where the frustrations of dealing with diabetes on a daily basis will get them down and they will want the freedom like every other student. My advice is to just be there at the end of the phone for support. You will have nights when you know they’re out partying and you wake up at 2am and again at 4am hoping they’re ok. This doesn’t get any easier, although knowing they have a good network of supportive friends is reassuring.

At times it’s not been an easy journey for my daughter – but the positives of going to university have been enormous. She’s gained her degree, partied like every other uni student, taken up rowing, had a part time bar job and had an amazing three years. Her and her rowing team have even participated in 24 hour rows and 10k runs raising funds and awareness for JDRF and Diabetes UK.

To my daughter: “Well done, you did it” and to all her great uni friends: “Thank you!”