Sending kids to school — whether it’s their first year or they’re off to college — is a busy time for parents. This is especially true if your child lives with type 1 diabetes.
A little preparation and planning can go a long way toward ensuring your child has a safe, happy school year. Before they head back to school, try these steps to help lay the groundwork for a successful year.
Diabetes care at school involves many people — not just your child’s instructor.
As a parent, you may rely on these individuals to communicate with you as well as with your child’s doctors or other medical professionals outside of school.
Individuals with varying roles may be
- school nurse
- school counselors
- sports coaches or other extracurricular activity coordinators
- lunchroom coordinators and staff
- section 504 or Individual Education Program (IEP) coordinator
These school personnel may have specific diabetes training or knowledge about federal laws that protect your child, like Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
A diabetes medical management plan (DMMP) is a document that outlines what’s needed for your child’s diabetes care at school.
Work with your child’s medical team complete the DMMP. Revise and update the plan as necessary, including before the start of each school year.
Your school will use the DMMP to create an individualized healthcare plan that guides the work of school personnel in relation to your child.
It also details emergency response plans for low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) and high blood sugar (hyperglycemia).
Make a list of diabetes supplies your child will need at school. JDRF recommends placing the following items in a child’s diabetes school supply kit:
- continuous glucose monitor (CGM) and pump, if applicable
- extra batteries or charging cord
- glucose meter, lancing device, lancets, and blood sugar test strips
- insulin and insulin delivery device (syringes, or pen and needles)
- ketone testing supplies
- low blood sugar supplies (snacks and glucose tabs)
- list of emergency contacts (parent and child’s doctor)
Coordinate with school care teams to decide which items your child can keep on hand and which they will leave with the school nurse.
Put the supplies in a dedicated container. Take stock of items regularly and replenish as needed.
Talk with your child about wearing a medical bracelet, pendant, or other form of identification that notes their diabetes diagnosis.
This can help inform others about how to best help your child in a medical emergency.
For example, a medical ID informs first responders of the potential for hypoglycemia and other diabetes-related emergencies in the event that your child cannot speak or communicate.
Routine is important for most people with type 1 diabetes, since eating and testing blood sugar typically happens on a strict schedule.
School field trips and other activities outside of the classroom, like sports and clubs, can disrupt your child’s routine. Know in advance when these events take place, and ask for any details not provided by the school.
The American Diabetes Association recommends taking the following steps before a field trip:
- Confirm who will carry your child’s diabetes supplies during the trip.
- Talk with your child’s doctor about adjusting insulin levels to accommodate increased activity and different eating times.
- Ask field trip organizers about continuous access to food, water, and washrooms for your child during the outing.
- Ask who on the trip has diabetes training.
Coaches and after school coordinators are another important resource. Various types of extracurricular activities may require your child to be especially proactive about eating snacks, testing blood sugar, and taking insulin.
A child with diabetes should always feel safe and comfortable tending to their health needs.
It’s easier on everyone if your child knows whether they have to raise their hand before leaving or can get up out of their seat without asking permission.
School lunches have to meet nutrition standards set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. These regulations help promote healthy eating, but are not specific to the needs of a child with diabetes.
If your child plans to eat lunch provided by the school, you may want to get specific menu and nutritional information from the school administrator.
Some cities, like New York, have detailed nutritional information for school lunch ingredients posted on their websites.
When a child with type 1 diabetes gets sick, it can take longer for them to get well, compared with other kids.
Ensure your child stays up to date on all recommended vaccines, including the annual flu vaccine, to help prevent illness. And make sure your child knows to wash their hands regularly, especially after using the bathroom and before eating.
No matter how much preparation you do before school starts, there’s still the potential for the unexpected.
Talk with your child regularly about their school day. Your child’s experience may reveal any breakdowns in communication or an administrative detail that you or the school care team missed.
You can also teach your child how to answer any questions their classmates may have about type 1 diabetes.
Diabetes action plans are important for children of all ages. As kids grow up, they can learn to take on more responsibility and work toward independently managing their diabetes.
That said, school care teams still play a key role to play in keeping students safe. Be sure to communicate with school staff about changes in your child’s health, including their comfort level with diabetes self-monitoring.
Parents have a lot to think about during back-to-school season. Kids with diabetes may need extra attention and care. Work with the school’s care team and talk with your child about their experience along the way to set the stage for a successful school year.