Perseverance. It Runs in the Family.

The Challenges of Autism and Type 1 Diabetes Can’t Stop the Bockey Family.

Julie Bockey is type 1 diabetic and has been a dedicated triathlon competitor for the past 10 years. A little over five years ago, she was joined by her husband, James (Shawn), who has now completed numerous distance races with his wife, including a half-Ironman.

As parents, Julie and Shawn set an amazing example of healthy living for their two sons, 18-year-old Jacob and 21-year-old Christian. But, the Bockey family overcomes challenges every day that make their triathlon achievements even more impressive.

Jake Bockey show off one of three medals he has earned participating
in triathlons. Monroe News photo by Tom Hawley
Jake and Christian both are severely autistic, and Jake is also type 1 diabetic.

Despite autism and diabetes, Jake completed his first super-sprint triathlon with his father in the summer of 2017, which included a 250-meter swim, a six-mile bike ride and a one-mile run. By the time 2017 was over, he and Shawn had completed two more super-sprint triathlons, bringing Jake’s total up to three for the year.

Like many autistic individuals, Jake speaks very rarely and struggles with anxiety. When Julie and Shawn began to experience behavioral issues with Jake, they decided to seek help from the Henry Ford Center for Autism and Developmental Disabilities (CADD) .

“One of the things we strive to provide for patients and their families is comprehensive care,” said Tisa Johnson, M.D., pediatrician and autism expert at CADD. “We take a more holistic approach and aim to improve the overall lives of our patients. As you can see with Jake, people with autism can lead very active and fulfilling lives.”

Four years since seeking treatment at CADD, Julie is glad they made that decision.

“We’ve never experienced healthcare like that,” Julie said. “Dr. Johnson and the team at the Center for Autism and Developmental Disabilities was just amazing. We received complete care at Henry Ford, and I can’t say enough about every provider we’ve encountered.”

While completing a super-sprint triathlon as an autistic individual is a huge accomplishment, it’s only half of the story. As a mother and nurse by trade, Julie is well-versed in caring for those around her. Part of that is keeping an eye on both her and Jake’s blood glucose.

Julie wears a continuous glucose monitor, which checks her blood glucose 280 times per day. A pin-sized catheter inserted into the arm or stomach sends her blood glucose data to her iPhone, so she can check her blood sugar with little more than a glance at her phone.

“Julie is a wonderful example of how to lead an active, healthy lifestyle with diabetes,” said Arti Bhan, M.D., division head of Endocrinology at Henry Ford Health System. Dr. Bhan is also Julie and Jake’s healthcare provider. “It’s her mindset. She wants to do this for her health and be a role model for her sons.”

Jake prefers not to wear a continuous glucose monitor, so Julie keeps a close eye on his diet and behavior to help determine when his blood glucose may be getting low.

“He can’t verbalize when his blood sugar is low,” Julie said. “But, at this point, diabetes has not affected his racing because he’s not out training for long periods of time.”

With the help of his mom and dad, Jake’s triathlons have been a big confidence booster for him.

“Jake has no limits, and neither do others who are autistic, diabetic or both,” Julie said. “He has struggled in ways unimaginable to many, and still does at times. I hope his story provides hope for others out there who are in similar situations.