sarene brooks

Sending your child back to school with type 1 diabetes

Sending your child to school with type 1 diabetes can bring on some anxiety, even if it is not your “first rodeo”. However, this is a good opportunity for the parent to slowly give their child some freedom and the child a chance to take on responsibilities a little at a time.

Hustling and bustling your child out the door to school can be less exhilarating for the parent of a child with type 1 diabetes.

School Bus

The list can be long as you prep for each school day: 

  • Pack lunch or check what is on the school lunch menu
  • Calculate carbs
  • Replenish supplies at school and “to-go bag”
  • Check all devices to be sure they are charged or have batteries
  • Be sure there is adequate insulin available for the day
  • Put fast-acting carbs used to correct for lows in your child’s backpack
  • Check child’s blood glucose right before they leave for the day

Then there are the things that cross your mind over and over again:

  • Do I need to remind my child AGAIN about what to do during lunch, when someone brings a special treat, or at recess?
  • Will someone notice if my child goes low or know how to help them?
  • Will my child fit in?
  • Will my child be low at lunchtime?
  • Will my child be high at lunchtime?
  • How will recess go today?

If you are this parent, you are not alone and the struggle is real.

This article is meant to provide ideas and resources to put your mind at ease. There are some basic things that can be done to mitigate the frustration and worry as you help your child flourish at school and progress along their own path of diabetes management. The things we are going to talk about are important for any age K-12. Remember, like many things in the diabetes world, take them one at a time and don’t let it overwhelm you.

back to school

Here are some tips and resources as you prepare to send your child to school:

1) Communication is key. Be sure to relay all important information about your child to all faculty members that will be a part of your child’s team at school. Create a “school diabetes team” that could include a school nurse, teacher(s), secretary, principal, athletic director/coaches, and lunch staff. I will refer often to the “team” throughout this column. They will be an important part of your child’s diabetes management at school.
> Take a look at What I Want My Teacher to Know About Type 1 Diabetes
> How to Support Your Student with Type 1 Diabetes
> Teacher Tip Sheet for ideas of things you want your child’s school diabetes care team to know.

2) Have a clear understanding of who is responsible for insulin administration for your child. This may be the nurse/faculty member or the child themself. Regardless, be sure more than one person is aware of how to help your child dose for snacks and meals. If your child is ready to do this for themself – GREAT! But have a plan in place in the event they run into a situation where they need help. Make sure they know who to go to and how to reach them.

3) Have a plan for things such as snacks, lunch, highs, lows, and treats brought in by other students. This may be a long shot but I know of a teacher who sends all class treats home with the students to be eaten with the supervision of the student’s parent(s).  This makes things consistent for all students. Whatever works best for your given situation, be sure everyone is clear on what that plan is. Don’t assume anything.

4) Have a Glucagon kit on the school premises at all times. Make sure all those on the team know where to find it and how to use it. Regardless of whether your child had ever needed glucagon or not, have this available. If the glucagon kit expires without being used, I view that as a good thing.

5) Teach the team about Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).  It is critical that all those around your child are aware of signs to watch for and what action to take. What You Need to Know About Hypoglycemia is a great resource to share with the team. I suggest you also include a list of specifics on your child. Include the signs you notice with your child that are an indication that they are low. Teach the team what the blood glucose numbers mean so they will better understand at what point to correct a low and how aggressive they need to be. An important concept to help them understand is that when a person with diabetes goes low, they may not recognize it nor be able to think clearly enough to know what to do about it. This is the case regardless of age or how long the student has had diabetes.

6) A diabetes to-go kit should be accessible and near your child at all times. It could include testing supplies, hypo treatment, glucagon, healthy snacks, and insulin. If your child leaves the school for an activity or field trip, the to-go kit MUST go with him/her. Even better, some students have one that stays at school and one that travels. For more information and ideas see Diabetes To-Go Kit.

7) Educate other students. If your child is in elementary school, it may be beneficial to join the school nurse and have a short education session with the students in your child’s class as the school year progresses. Then the entire class can be part of the team. The more people who can help your child the better. It will also help the other students feel more at ease when they watch your child dose insulin or test blood glucose. They will also be more understanding when they need to eat a snack to correct a low. I have seen children recognize a low in a student with diabetes before an adult noticed. Don’t underestimate what a child can….and will….do.

8) Have your child slowly take on more of their own self-management. Start where they are and gradually add to it. From the simplest task such as being in charge of taking their To-Go Kit to school each day all the way to full self-management (for older teens), it is important to include your child in their own care. Help them see the importance and value of this great responsibility.

9) Make sure to address your child’s concerns. Take time to have a conversation with your child and find out what THEY need. Include them in conversations as you meet with school staff prior to school starting and allow them to have input. Keep the communication lines open during the year so you will be aware if things change for your child at school. Be their advocate but don’t have unrealistic expectations of what the school can do (this is where the 504 plan comes in). Help them feel that they are in a judgment-free zone with you.

10) Take a look at the JDRF Checklist as an additional resource.

Sending your child to school can be a lot of work and planning. But it can be a positive, successful experience for the parent, the child and the school. With adequate resources, it can be a time of excitement and growth. Allow your child to learn more about making diabetes a part of their life without allowing it to run their life, and yours.