Back-to-school is a busy and sometimes stressful time for many families.
But for the approximately 175,000 people under the age of 20 who have Type 1 diabetes, with 13,000 new cases being diagnosed each year – and the growing number of youngsters with Type 2 diabetes – extra planning and unique concerns are a big part of hitting the books again.
Below we offer some useful tips to get the school year off on the right foot.
Make a Diabetes Medical Management Plan
Take the time to develop a detailed diabetes school safety plan that outlines all aspects of their child’s disease, how monitoring and blood glucose management will be handled during school hours and extracurricular activities, and what symptoms to look for and steps to take in the case of an emergency.
This plan should be developed before school starts with the child’s healthcare team and should be discussed in a formal meeting between the parents and appropriate school personnel to ensure expectations, roles, and responsibilities are mutually understood and agreed upon. The plan should also be revisited throughout the school year to ensure that it continues to address the child’s individual needs, which may change.
Keep Communication Flowing
When deciding whom to communicate with regularly at school, parents need to cast a wide net. It’s important to think about not only specific teachers, school nurses, or select administrators, but all the people who will touch their child’s life throughout the day – bus drivers, cafeteria workers, coaches, after-school volunteers, field trip chaperons, standardized test monitors, close friends, other parents, etc.
Communicating with people who are with the child prior to meals, in mid-afternoon and following exercise is especially crucial as this is when blood glucose levels tend to drop, requiring special attention.
Balance Food, Exercise, and Insulin
As parents educate themselves and others about diabetes, it is essential to leverage three elements for their child’s health with Type 1 diabetes – food, exercise, and insulin. Kids with Type 1 diabetes can generally eat any food in moderation, but a school menu high in carbohydrates will need to be counteracted with insulin.
As for exercise, there is no doubt that it is great for all kids, but because it can lower blood sugar levels, it is important to ensure an extra eye is kept on a child with diabetes after finishing gym class or sports practice.
Depending on the age and how long the child has had diabetes, a child is generally happier and healthier the more s/he is involved with the diabetes care. It is key to engage the child in the school plan and letting him or her help choose when and how fellow students learn about diabetes.
Keep the lines of communication open about managing diabetes at school and while the child can help in the care, diabetes is not a do-it-yourself disease, so the adults at school need to remain involved. Also, use all the resources available to you. Parents, kids, and schools are in a better place than ever before to get the diabetes education and support they need. A few key resources available include:
Check out these Resources:
Read our article on 8 Approved D-Friendly Back-To-School Lunch Ideas For Kids to get some useful tips on how to pack a healthy lunch.
Reviewed by Francine Kaufman, MD.