Back to School seems to be coming earlier every year — although for me, psychologically, it will always be the Tuesday after Labor Day. Speaking of the psychological aspects of school life, I asked my D-correspondent extraordinaire Allison Blass to share her thoughts about being a kid with diabetes in the classroom: who do you tell about the Big D and how, and what's a parent to do these days?
A Guest Post by Allison Blass
When I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes almost 17 years ago, I didn't know anyone else with diabetes. I was the only student at my elementary school with it. Although our school nurse was familiar with diabetes because of the other students in the district, she was only at my school one day a week. That meant my family and I relied a lot on my teacher, the school secretaries, and, of course, my friends.
After missing three days of school while in the hospital, I came back to school and was met with a class full of questions. My parents decided to be proactive with education, and I spent the morning showing the school staff how my glucose meter worked and how to treat low blood sugar reactions. We also wanted to be proactive with the kids in my class. I stood in front of the class with my mom while she gave a basic presentation about what diabetes is, what my little gadgets were (at the time, it was just my glucose meter, though we would have shown my insulin pump had I had one back then), and why it was important for me to eat and drink sometimes.
These days, I occasionally talk to parents or their children about how they are nervous about talking too much about diabetes. They are concerned that their child might be bullied or ostracized because of their diabetes. I decided to ask my own childhood friends to take a trip down memory lane to tell me what they remember about my diagnosis:
Jenny said, "I think I started doing a little research, and I know there wasn't a lot of 'kid friendly' information about diabetes. When I found out, you were still trying to figure it out yourself, so I didn't get a lot of information from you or your family. I just knew you were gone from school and really sick. My first question was if you were going to die or not."
Very true that there was not lot of information about diabetes for kids available back then. But nowadays we have the wonderful Children with Diabetes community. And there are now also dozens of books designed to educate children about diabetes. Depending on how old your child's friends are, you may want to share these resources with them — or make them available to their parents to help answer any questions they might have. Since technology is always changing, you may have to supplement with some additional information about your own child. Some recommended books include:
- Taking Diabetes to School by Kim Gosselin
- Rufus Comes Homes, also by Kim Gosselin
- Even Superheroes Get Diabetes, by Sue Ganz-Schmitt
Another good friend of mine named Jen said, "Something that is always good for sharing this with friends as kids is to ... make it something positive and interesting rather than negative and scary. Just be informative about all of the gadgets and tools and meters, etc. What little kid wouldn't think an insulin pump and glucose meter talking to each other is cool? It's like magic! And my friends and family used to place bets on what my blood sugar would be (they still do, actually...)."
My friend Kayce confirms the 'stay-positive' notion:
"After I heard, I also remember telling my 3rd grade teacher about it because you were going to be absent from school. She looked at me with a very concerned face, told me that she knew, and asked if I was doing OK. I remember this so particularly because it was the first time I'd heard anybody react so worried about the situation. In fact, at the time I remember thinking that she was overreacting, because you were going to be fine — you just needed medicine. Honestly, I didn't understand the breadth of what was going on, especially regarding the impact of diabetes on your long-term health and how potentially dangerous it could be if you didn't take care of yourself. And I think that's OK, because I was maybe 8 years old."
For parents, it's important to stay on the same page with your child's teacher, school staff, other parents, and even your spouse about how you will approach diabetes around children. Although we adults know how serious diabetes is, it is crucial that other children still perceive your child as "one of the gang." Children are more perceptive than we sometimes remember, and acting too emotional or overly concerned may tip them off that something is "wrong" and perhaps they shouldn't spend as much time with your child.
Last week, Amy wrote about the Boston Globe op-ed in which a man reveals keeping his diabetes a secret from his girlfriend for a time. Many of you chimed in with your own thoughts. Several mentioned that judgment and misguided comments about diabetes led them to avoid mentioning diabetes to even good friends. My hope is that by educating children about diabetes at the outset of a diagnosis, showing children — and by proximity, their parents! — that children with diabetes really are still children, that hopefully in the future there will be no more silly questions or stupid comments.
This is not to say that you need to share diabetes with everyone, or even every child at school. But the amount of time a child spends at school compared to time at home is staggering, and I think it is safer and wiser to have a few mature children, and at the very least, your child's best friend, aware of diabetes and how they can help.
And if you're lucky, your child's friends will start picking up on some more healthful habits as well. My friends still blame me for their Diet Coke addiction.