Kids with type 1 diabetes just want to be kids. It is amazing how 3% of a pancreas (those beta cells that make insulin) can have such a profound result on a child to be able to do the day-to-day activities that their friends without diabetes can do.
Many of you may have heard about the 6 year old Michigan boy, Ian Unger, who is selling pumpkins to raise money for a diabetes alert dog so he can just ride the bus to school. Ian, who has type 1 diabetes, wears a pump and is unable to ride the bus without the support of an aide, be it a person or an alert dog. This story is the daily reality for many children with diabetes
School life can be tough but living with diabetes adds challenges that many people might not recognize. Understanding these challenges and how to work through them are critical for not just the child and family, but for classmates, school personnel and the diabetes care team.
Everyday school activities can become complex undertakings. High or low blood sugar levels can happen anywhere at any time, affecting the child’s learning, cognition, attention and behavior. When stress, school social events and hormones are added, the mix can make managing diabetes even more difficult. Parents should think through with the child when they’ll have field trips or school events that could impact their diabetes and work through how to manage it.
Finding help for self-care tasks can be a challenge. The who, where, when, how and by whom of monitoring glucose levels and administering insulin are important questions to ask. And what if the blood sugar goes too low? Can the child treat it in the classroom or do they need to be seen by the school nurse? Many non-emergency diabetes care tasks needed for self-care can be undertaken by the child. Other situations, because of age, developmental level, inexperience, or self-care adherence, will need help from school personnel to recognize and treat high or low blood sugar levels. The diabetes health care team, including the certified diabetes educator, can help to give children and families living with Type 1 diabetes the knowledge, skills and tools they need to be successful with required diabetes self-care. Learning about diabetes and the factors that can raise and lower blood sugar levels as well as the strategies to correct changes are all important teaching points. Children with diabetes are also great teachers and can help in teaching others, especially their class mates about their diabetes.
Most schools aren’t equipped. It is key to learn, communicate and negotiate to get the best outcomes for all involved. It is important to remember that many schools have little experience caring for a student with diabetes. Just like for the child and family, school personnel will have questions and fears and need to learn the skills required for safe and effective diabetes care. There are a lot of considerations to think about and the importance of developing a plan with the school cannot be overestimated. Families play a critical role in sharing their specific knowledge of their child with the school – administrators, teachers, health personnel and bus drivers all need to be aware to optimize the child’s safety and wellbeing. Diabetes educators can help ensure the child has all the right items in their diabetes treatment kit for school and future supplies and can also assist with important training for school personnel.