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Helping your child manage their diabetes while at school can be an extremely challenging, stressful and anxious experience. Nobody wants to entrust their child’s health with a stranger, but it’s not possible to be there for every moment of every school day. Elissa Renouf tackles some of the issues experienced by parents and offers helpful tips and hints for managing diabetes at school.

It’s really hard to send your kids out into a world where you know they’re going to be relying on strangers to help them manage their condition. That’s something I experienced myself – especially in the first year after each child’s diagnosis. It’s daunting enough to figure out what you should be doing, let alone trying to educate someone else!

For your own peace of mind, it’s important to have an open line of communication with your daughter’s teachers. Have the confidence to speak up and tell them how you’d like her condition to be managed. Here’s a good example: my 15-year-old son, Charlie, recently went to footy camp. Before he left, I made sure I spoke to one of the adults in charge on the trip. I gave them instructions about what to do if he had a hypo, and included a management plan with all the important information and emergency numbers. Being prepared in this way is the key to feeling more relaxed as a parent.

As for wanting your daughter to feel like she’s not any different from the other kids in her class, that’s a bit trickier. It’s a sad fact that there is so much stigma attached to kids with Type 1. I often hear things like, ‘Type 1 is that really bad kind of diabetes’, and that ‘taking insulin is a sign that kids aren’t managing their condition well’. As there is a lot of ignorance out there, I feel the responsibility lies with parents to educate others and to make their child feel as normal as possible.

My 13-year-old son, Freddie, was sometimes teased at school for having an insulin pump. The other kids would tug at the tubing and make fun of it. It’s my job as his parent to empower Fred to be aware of his condition, and to give him to confidence to feel comfortable enough to explain diabetes and his insulin pump to the people around him.

If we educate ourselves, we’re able to better teach our kids and hopefully, over time, educate the community and change attitudes for good.

Diabetic Living Magazine. Issue 53, 2014. Download a copy of this article as a pdf here.

Your anxieties are totally normal. Even though I’m an old hand at the game, I still get butterflies as my boys start the school year – how is their new teacher going to react? Will they recognise the signs if my child is having a hypo? Do they understand that my child may have to take breaks to manage his levels, and not to embarrass him in front of his peers?

Whether they’re starting a new school or a new year, the key is preparation. Over the years, I’ve picked up some useful know-how and I find that putting a plan in place before the school year finishes helps me keep calm and in control when the next one comes around. Here are my tips for easing your child through this transition.

Find out what support systems your health authority may have in place to help you, and make use of these. Also, find out as early as possible from the school who your child’s new teacher will be. If they’re in high school, ask for a list of all specialist teachers and not just their form group or home room supervisor.

Organise a meeting with these teachers and all other staff who interact with your child throughout the year (librarians, PE and music teachers, admin and support staff, and so on).

Educate them about your child’s condition. I found the best way was to show them the Professor Bumblebee DVD (available through Diabetes Australia). This helps to explain diabetes in very simple terms.

Offer guidance by taking your child’s diabetic equipment to the meeting, explaining its purpose and how to use it.

Help them understand your child’s individual needs via a Personalised Diabetes Management plan outlining testing times, treatment, hypo and hyper symptoms, care contact details, and so on. Diabete-ezy produces plans that are personalised to your child’s needs (order yours here).

Prepare staff for emergencies by demonstrating your child’s hypo kit, explaining the need to act fast. Post a number of kits in key locations around the school – their classroom, admin office and sports changing rooms – so they are always readily to hand. Equip each kit wit ha sticker explaining what action to take if your child has a hypo (Diabete-ezy hypo stickers sheets – available here – are an easy and concise way to set these out).

Encourage your child’s teacher to ask questions – make it clear you’re always available if they need guidance and information. I’ve found that the more they ask in the first week or two, the better they understand your child’s needs, making the whole year less of a challenge.

Ask if there are other children with diabetes in the school. It’s great to have this network of parents to offer each other support.

Last, but not least, take time to sit down and take a deep breath. It may be scary, but remember, you’ve done all that you could, to the best of your ability and the teachers and staff will thank you later!

Diabetic Living Magazine. Issue 49, 2014.

With four of my five kids now diagnosed, training a new teacher about diabetes is something I’ve had to do for the past seven years, from preschool to year 12. To make my life and, hopefully, the teacher’s life a lot less stressful, I’ve developed a checklist, which works really well. My first step is to make use of the two or three pupil-free days before school starts to set up a meeting with my child’s teachers.

 

I go to this meeting armed with the necessary diabetes equipment, and the Professor Bumblebee’s Guide to Type 1 Diabetes DVD (available from the Australian Diabetes Council), which explains diabetes in very simple terms for adults and children. Then I go through my child’s daily routine and their Personalised Management Plans (a format we’ve developed through out Diabete-ezy website – you can order yours here). I talk about the effects of exercise on BGLs, as well as the importance of recognizing and treating hypo symptoms promptly. I also explain how high BGLs can call for extra trips to the toilet.

 

I then familiarise the teachers with my child’s diabetes essentials – our Ezy-fit Case set up with a blood glucose meter, test strips and Test-wipes, plus an insulin pen (a spare, in case they have problems with their insulin pump). There’s also a large supplies container with the credit card-sized Personal Management Plan stuck on the lid.

 

Inside this container, I store:

  • 20 hypo kits (a muesli bar with eight jelly beans in a resealable bag with a hypo instruction sticker.
  • 2 spare boxes of test strips and extra wipes.
  • Spare batteries for the blood glucose meter and insulin pump, plus a 10-cent piece for opening the pump’s battery compartment.
  • An extra bag of jelly beans.

 

The teachers and I agree on a spot to keep it and I place the Personalised Management Plan in 4-6 locations around the school. I show the teachers the blood glucose metes and needles. I even test myself so the teachers understand how the meter works and why it’s important that my child has both this and their hypo kit with them at all times. Once school starts, I leave the classroom as soon as the teacher is comfortable, although I may stay at the school library until lunchtime when the children are younger, in case I’m needed.

 

From year 9, it becomes quite easy – my children take more responsibility for their diabetes and need less input from teachers. I talk to the school nurse about each child’s diabetes management and leave the large supplies container in the sick room with their Personalised Management Plan.

Diabetic Living Magazine. Issue 31, 2011. Download a copy of this article as a pdf here.

It would be beneficial for your daughter’s teacher to briefly explain diabetes to the class. Her classmates have probably already seen her do her finger-prick tests, so this information will enlighten those inquisitive minds. I particularly like playing the DVD, Professor Bumblebee’s Guide to Type 1 (available from the Australian Diabetes Council, $14), to the class as it explains diabetes in general, as well as the importance of having lollies on hand. Educating your daughter’s peers can make her feel more supported.

Diabetic Living Magazine. Issue 27, 2010. Download a copy of this article as a pdf here.

First, speak to your son’s teacher and explain how important it is for him to eat at certain times. Also, tell your son that if he is not going to be responsible for himself, you’ll ask his teacher to supervise him while he eats lunch. I’m sure it won’t take him long to remember to eat! Or, set an alarm on his watch or mobile phone to go off at food times.

Diabetic Living Magazine. Issue 27, 2010. Download a copy of this article as a pdf here.

This is a daunting experience for most parents. I was one of them! I designed a Personalised Diabetes Management Plan for my children to use in school (they are available for order here). I spoke in depth with the teachers and spent extra time in the classroom during the first couple of weeks. I’m sure the teacher will value your help on how to best manage your sons diabetes.

Diabetic Living Magazine. Issue 25, 2010. Download a copy of this article as a pdf here.

No, I have a complete set of diabetes equipment including blood glucose meter at school and at home. This eliminates any risk of them leaving their meter at home during the day or being without it at night because it's been left at school. I do get the kids to bring home the log-books they use at school each day so I can keep an eye on their blood glucose levels.

Diabetic Living Magazine. Issue 19, 2009.

He likes to be discreet with any issues concerning his diabetes, so he carries two Test-wipe dispenser boxes full of jelly beans in the pocket of his pants. They weren’t designed for this, but they are small and discreet and each box fits around nine small or 15 gluten free jellybeans, which is usually enough for Billy to treat his hypo because he is on a pump. He also carries extra bars and jellybeans in his schoolbag.

Diabetic Living Magazine. Issue 19, 2009.

Each term I fill a large container with about 25 hypo kits (eight small jelly beans and muesli bar in a zip lock bag with hypo stickers), two boxes of test strips, spare batteries for the blood glucose meter and the insulin pump, plus an extra packet of jelly beans. The kids also carry their Ezy-fit case. A hypo kit is kept in the Ezy-fit case, which goes with them when they leave the classroom.

Diabetic Living Magazine. Issue 19, 2009.

Set up a meeting with Amy’s principal and teacher so you can discuss her diabetes. I also ask the school if I can talk to the teachers who have contact with my children so I can educate them about diabetes management. I show them a DVD called Professor Bumblebee’s guide to Type 1 Diabetes (Diabetes Australia – NSW $17). It describes diabetes in simple terms. I also get them to show the class in the first week. I then demonstrate the blood glucose monitor and insulin pen and go through the daily routine. I have developed personalised Diabetes Management Plans for our children while at school, too (available here). They include hypo symptoms, where the blood glucose monitor and hypo kits are kept, what the child is to given if having a hypo, the times to be tested plus other vital information. I also stress to teachers that they can call me at any time now matter how simple the question.

Diabetic Living Magazine. Issue 13, 2008.

Having diabetes can make a child an easy target for bullies - seeing them get special treatment in the classroom (in case of a hypo, for example) or during and exam can lead to other children targeting them as a ‘teachers pet’ or similar. Likewise, some kids can't resist ridiculing a classmate who does blood tests, has injections, needs to eat at social times or is allowed lollies in class when they are not – sadly, ganging up on someone who appears vulnerable or different is not unusual behavior in the age group.

 

Although targeting someone for a condition that they cannot help seems cruel, my take on it is that kids may use bullying a newly diagnosed child as a way of coping with their own anxiety and confusion about what has happened to a fellow pupil. I can understand your boy's fear of drawing more attention by informing teachers, but ignoring the problem is unlikely to make it go away. If your child has been teased or victimised on account of his diabetes, it should be treated the same as any other incidence of bulling. Firstly you need to take it up with the appropriate person in the school system - it may be easily dealt with by talking to your child’s teacher (or teachers). In severe cases, it may be an issue for the school's principal.

 

With my children, I have found that an upfront approach is the best prevention when it comes to bullying. Whenever one of my sons has moved to a new school, I organise a meeting with his teachers and explain his condition to them. I then ask them to show a short DVD on Type 1 Diabetes to my son’s class so he isn’t embarrassed in front of his peers. Having some understanding of the situation seems to discourage kids from bullying behavior.

 

If your child feels up to it he could show his diabetic gear to the class, explaining what everything is used for. This has always had a positive outcome for our family, as the other kids are generally intrigued. Bringing all this out into the open takes the mystery out of diabetes and once the others know more about his condition it doesn’t set my son apart.

Diabetic Living Magazine. Issue 41, 2012. 

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