Q: My 7-year-old daughter was diagnosed only a few weeks ago, and now, putting us all into something of a panic, the start of school is practically here. I haven’t called her school yet, and I wanted to know where I should start when I talk to them.
A: From a parent of a child with type 1 diabetes…
School is a challenging prospect for every parent of a child newly diagnosed with type 1. When my 7-year-old son, David, was diagnosed last year, he only missed two days of school. We didn’t want him to think that diabetes was something that should keep him out of school or that he was any different now that he had diabetes. However, sending him to school so quickly gave us little time to work with our school, and since he was the only child with diabetes, we had a lot of preparing to do. The first week was very hectic.
For all parents, school is the one place where we have to entrust our children to the care of others. What we find works best is giving all adults responsible for our son’s care a basic rundown of diabetes in general, and David’s specific treatment plan in particular. That list includes David’s teachers, the principal, the physical education staff, and the cafeteria manager. However, meeting with them all is a bit overwhelming, not too mention very difficult to arrange.
As a result, we put together an informational document containing the information that we give to the nurse (or in your case, whoever will have primary responsibility for your daughter), who then distributes it to all those responsible for our son’s care during the school day. With this packet in hand, we meet with his primary teacher, principal, and nurse at the beginning of each year. Then the nurse meets with the rest of the staff to give them the informational document and discuss David’s specific care. We also include David’s photo and special instructions for a substitute teacher, who may not have a clue about diabetes.
If your daughter is attending a public school, federal law calls for students with diabetes to set up a 504 plan to outline a care plan that is approved by the school district, your primary diabetes physician, and most importantly, you. You can learn how to create your own plan here.
Beyond that basic plan, you should know that every school district and individual school can handle a child’s specific medical condition differently. Each state has different laws and rules that can possibly restrict and bind what teachers and school staff (other than nurses) can or can’t do, including where your daughter can test her blood sugar. You need to check on the regulations governing your daughter’s school.
Finally, you should supply the school with necessary supplies in treating your daughter’s diabetes. We arranged to place an emergency kit in each room our child will visit during the day. The kit should contain juice, glucose tablets, or other snacks to treat symptoms of low blood sugars. We also put together a larger emergency pack that contains an extra meter, sugar tablets, and other important supplies that we keep stored in the school nurse’s office.
When my son first went back to school, he had to have a snack at 10 a.m. every day, which did not coincide with normal class snack time. You cannot rely on teachers or nurses to remember who gets a snack everyday. So we bought our son a watch and set the alarm for 10. When the alarm goes off, he and his teachers know it’s time for his snack.
Because our son is only 8, we do require that he does all his testing and bolusing (giving insulin from his pump to cover meals) in the nurse’s office. We also require that someone accompany him to the nurse if he feels low.
It is also important to develop a communication plan with the school, particularly for emergencies, but also for daily concerns. Make sure everyone responsible for your daughter’s well-being knows who to call.
I hope this gets you started. The best way to get local information is through your local JDRF chapter, where you can meet other parents in your school or school district. We’ve found that meeting and talking with other parents has taught us what to ask and what to look for in taking care of our son’s diabetes.
Have a question? Go to the JDRF Online Diabetes Support Team.