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“I just have diabetes”: children’s need for diabetes self-management support and how a social robot can accommodate their needs

Authors Blanson-Henkemans O, Hoondert, Groot, Looije, Alpay L, Neerincx

Received 13 February 2012

Accepted for publication 18 April 2012

Published 16 July 2012 Volume 2012:4 Pages 51—61


Review by Single-blind

Peer reviewer comments 2

Olivier A Blanson Henkemans, Vera Hoondert, Femke Schrama-Groot, Rosemarijn Looije, Laurence L Alpay, Mark A Neerincx

TNO, Lifestyle, Leiden, The Netherlands

Purpose: Children with type 1 diabetes need to self-manage their illness to minimize its impact on their long-term health. However, because children are still developing cognitively and emotionally, self-management is challenging. The European FP7 project, ALIZ-E, looks at how social robots can support children aged 8–12 years with their diabetes self-management. To acquire user requirements for such a robot, we studied how diabetes self-management is organized for children and how they experience their illness and its management regarding their quality of life.
Methods: We conducted semistructured interviews with diabetes caregivers (n = 6) and children 8–12 with type 1 diabetes (n = 9), and surveyed their parents (n = 9).
Results: Results of the interviews with caregivers show that parents play a prominent role in diabetes self-management and, accordingly, children do not experience significant problems. However, because children develop a need for autonomy during puberty, it is important that they become more proficient in their self-management at an earlier age. Results of the interviews with children show that they accept diabetes as a part of their life and want to be seen as regular children. Also, children experience difficulties in unusual situations (eg, doing sports and vacationing) and at school. The illness comes at the cost of the child’s mental well-being (eg, insecurity, fear, and worry) and physical well-being (eg, listlessness and tiredness). Regarding social well-being, children enjoy attending diabetes camps and having friends with diabetes, due to a common understanding of their condition. Finally, parents are not always fully aware of how children experience their illness.
Conclusion: Children could benefit from social robots offering motivation, training, and (parental) monitoring and support, and serving as a fallback for uncommon events. To prevent stigmatization, the robot would need to act as a buddy and not as a support tool in the management of diabetes.

Keywords: chronic illness, coping, child-participation, social robot, personalized support

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