Although we're still in the height of summer, it won't be too long before the school bell is ringing. While most parents are somewhat relieved to get their kids off the couch and back into a routine, for parents of CWDs, it can cause all new headaches and grief. Even on the receiving end as a student, I remember just how gosh-darn complicated it was!
Hallie Addington, mom to Sweetpea, is getting ready to send her daughter to school for the very first time. She shares the same concerns as all parents, but with an added twist: she's also a teacher! How will a teacher manage her own child at school? Hallie gives some useful pointers for parents who are preparing for a whole new school life with diabetes, and prepping their 504 plans ...
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At the end of the summer, my little girl will be going to kindergarten. Kindergarten! How did this happen?!? Where did the time go?!?!
Of course, I have the normal concerns that every parent has as their child goes off to school for the first time. Will she find friends in her class? Will she do well in school? Will she listen to her teacher? Will she be OK?
But when your child is also a child living with diabetes, that opens up a whole new world of concerns!
My daughter, Sweetpea (not her real name), was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in April of 2009. She had just turned 3 years old. We have been living with diabetes for over 2 years now. A mere drop in the bucket, but long enough to realize what we are up against. We've dealt with this disease long enough to know that we need to be prepared.
And school is definitely something we feel needs a lot of preparation in order for it to be the most successful experience possible for everyone involved.
My perspective is somewhat unique. Not only am I the parent of a child living with diabetes, but I am also a kindergarten teacher. (Teacher by Day... Pancreas by Night... and Day!)
Before Sweets was diagnosed, I had NO CLUE about diabetes. None. I knew the symptoms (that ended up coming in handy....) but not much else. I have had students in my class with Type 1 before. But I never understood the disease. No one ever really told me anything about it - other than to hand me a paper filled with faces showing the different symptoms of high and low blood sugar. That was it. The extent of my knowledge. In other words... I knew nothing.
I distinctly remember being in the hospital with Sweets during diagnosis and feeling so incredibly HORRIBLE that I had not known. It didn't take much education for me to realize how DANGEROUS it had been. The person who had been responsible for these children when they were at school had not understood anything about diabetes. No one had told me that diabetes was life-threatening. No one told me that things could change in a heart beat. No one told me how difficult it was to achieve good control... especially in a newly diagnosed child. No one told me that blood sugar can effect a child's ability to learn and concentrate.
I felt TERRIBLE. I wondered if I had made these families lives harder due my ignorance. And I vowed that it would never happen again. Not in my classroom. Not in my school. Not if I had anything to do with it.
Here are a few things that I did to make Sweetpea's transition to school a little easier on everyone involved. First, I created an information sheet about Sweets. It includes her picture, her specific symptoms of high and low blood sugar, what to do in an emergency, who to call, etc. Substitute teachers will have this on hand. I also give one to every teacher who will have Sweets in their class (Music, PE, Art, etc.).
I put together a kit for her to keep in the clinic that contains all kinds of extra supplies. Items to treat a low, glucagon, extra pump supplies, an extra meter, extra strips, extra lancets. You name it, it's in there. I also made a kit for her classroom that contains an extra meter and testing supplies, fast-acting sugar, and an information sheet. I have asked that Sweets (or an adult) carry that kit with her whenever she leaves the room. This is in case there is a fire, tornado, lockdown, or drill of any kind. She will always have access to a meter and fast-acting sugar.
We have created a 504 plan for Sweets. Some might think it silly because everything is going well and I'm in same school building... but I think it is important to have this plan in place when everything is going well... so that if it should not go so well — what we need is already there. I know some may not think it's necessary because people have gone to school for years without a 504 and been successful. But I look at it like this: It's like getting a continuous glucose monitor. Yes, for years people lived without them and were fine. But if you can get one — and if it can help — why not?!? You can view our 504 plan by clicking here.
I am also available to go into the classroom to talk to the class about diabetes. Or I can give the information to the teacher if he/she prefers. We use our JDRF Rufus bear and books to talk about diabetes. Sweets will show off her stuff and really enjoys talking to her class about her pump and her Dexie. (I do leave this up to Sweetpea. If she does not want to talk to the class — we don't do it.)
The last thing I do is make sure that I communicate with her teacher. Most teachers want to help and want your child be successful. Most teachers can get scared by something like diabetes. The best thing you can do is to communicate. Explain type 1. Explain what happens when blood sugar is high or low. Explain how you feel about birthday parties and snacks. Be very clear. Be open and willing to talk about diabetes. Be willing to make accommodations and help out if/when needed. I have even offered to give little information or training sessions. You can find lots of great information and resources on the internet at places like the ADA's Safe at School campaign.
You can find more information on the stuff we provide to Sweetpea's teachers and school by clicking here.
School is such an important part of your child's life and development! I wish you all a wonderful and successful school year!
Thank you, Hallie, for the excellent tips coming directly from a teacher who knows what's most helpful at school.
** Editor's Note: Our Summer Guest Post Series comes to a conclusion today. We hope you've enjoyed this excellent line-up for 2011. A huge thank-you to all who participated, and all who read and commented here! **