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Optimizing Diabetes Management for Autistic Adults: Understanding the Intersection and Practical Tips

Autism and diabetes are two complex conditions that can intersect in an individual’s life. Recent studies have shown a potential link between autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and an increased risk for diabetes. If you or a loved one is an autistic adult managing diabetes, you likely have many questions about how to thrive with both conditions. This comprehensive guide covers everything you need to know, from understanding the connection between autism and diabetes, to practical tips for optimal self-care. With the right knowledge, resources and support network, you can successfully manage your health.

Optimizing Diabetes Management for Autistic Adults
Optimizing Diabetes Management for Autistic Adults

The Link Between Autism and Diabetes

There are a few key reasons autistic individuals may be at a greater risk for developing diabetes:

  • Genetics – Research indicates there are shared genetic risk factors between ASD and diabetes. Variants in genes can make a person more susceptible to both conditions.
  • Lifestyle factors – Autistic people may be more likely to have risk factors like obesity, poor diet, and lack of exercise. Restrictive behaviors and routines, as well as challenges with executive functioning, can make it difficult to maintain healthy lifestyle habits.
  • Medications – Some medications used to treat mental health and behavioral challenges in autism have side effects like weight gain, which increase diabetes risk.
  • Diagnostic challenges – Symptoms like excessive thirst and frequent urination may be mistakenly attributed to autism traits rather than recognized as signs of diabetes.

Diabetes Basics: Types, Symptoms, Diagnosis

There are three main types of diabetes:

Type 1

  • Autoimmune disease where the pancreas stops producing insulin
  • Usually diagnosed in childhood or adolescence
  • Requires insulin injections or pump for survival

Type 2

  • Pancreas produces insulin, but the body doesn’t use it effectively
  • Most common form, usually diagnosed in adulthood
  • Managed through oral medication, insulin therapy, or lifestyle changes


  • Develops during pregnancy due to hormonal changes
  • Usually resolves after delivery of the baby
  • Manages with diet, exercise and possibly medications

Common symptoms of diabetes:

  • Frequent urination
  • Increased thirst and hunger
  • Fatigue
  • Blurred vision
  • Slow healing cuts/bruises
  • Tingling hands/feet

Diagnosis involves blood tests to check glucose/A1C levels. Testing should be done regularly for those at high risk. Inform your doctor of any symptoms or family history of diabetes.

Diabetes Self-Management Tips for Autistic Adults

Living with both autism and diabetes poses unique challenges. Here are practical tips to optimize self-care:

Learn All You Can About

Knowledge is power. Take diabetes education classes, read reputable websites, and stay up-to-date on the latest research. Understanding your treatment options allows you to take control of your health.

Assemble Your Healthcare Team

Your team may include an endocrinologist, registered dietitian, diabetes educator, primary care doctor, and other specialists. Find providers you trust and feel comfortable communicating with.

Advocate for Your Needs

Don’t be afraid to speak up during appointments. Share your needs and ask questions. Bring a support person and assistive tools if helpful. You have a right to quality care.

Make Routines That Work

Consistent schedules for meals, activity, medication and sleep are crucial. Observe how your routines impact blood sugar levels. Tweak them to achieve optimal control.

Prepare For the Unexpected

Have emergency supplies on hand at all times. Talk to your doctor about illness or unpredictable blood sugar scenarios. Planning ahead reduces anxiety when the unexpected happens.

Practice Self-Care

Don’t get burned out on diabetes management. Make time for fun, relationships, mental health support, and anything else that nourishes you. Taking care of your whole self makes the daily grind easier.

Connect with Others Who Understand

Join autism/diabetes support groups. Find communities who get the unique challenges you face and can share tips. You don’t have to do this alone.

Additional Resources

  • American Association – Information, community and advocacy for those with diabetes. www.diabetes.org
  • Beyond Type 1 – Support and resources for those with Type 1 diabetes. www.beyondtype1.org
  • DiabetesSisters – Organization focused on women’s unique needs related to diabetes. www.diabetessisters.org
  • My AutismTeam – Online social network and resource community for autistic individuals and families. www.myautismteam.com

In-Home ABA Therapy in Maryland

Managing diabetes while on the autism spectrum takes diligence, courage and support. Jade ABA Therapy provides individualized, in-home ABA treatment to help autistic children and adults in Maryland thrive and build life skills. Their experienced therapists deliver outstanding, compassionate care. Contact them today to get started.

Phone: (410) 616-0901

Email: info@jadeaba.org


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Zerbo, O., Massolo, M. L., Qian, Y., & Croen, L. A. (2015). A study of physician knowledge and experience with autism in adults in a large integrated healthcare system. Journal of autism and developmental disorders, 45(12), 4002–4014. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-015-2579-2

McElhanon, B. O., McCracken, C., Karpen, S., & Sharp, W. G. (2014). Gastrointestinal symptoms in autism spectrum disorder: a meta-analysis. Pediatrics, 133(5), 872–883. https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2013-3995

Wang, L. W., Tancredi, D. J., & Thomas, D. W. (2011). The prevalence of gastrointestinal problems in children across the United States with autism spectrum disorders from families with multiple affected members. Journal of developmental and behavioral pediatrics : JDBP, 32(5), 351–360. https://doi.org/10.1097/DBP.0b013e31821bd06a

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