Diabetes: A School Guide for Effective Blood Sugar Management

When it comes to treating diabetes in children, one of the biggest concerns is how they will handle and manage their condition when they’re in school. Even an older child who can have a lot to learn, particularly if they’re newly diagnosed.

The good news is that children are resilient and they can handle most of the things life brings their way. By giving them the tools to handle their diabetes during school hours, they can keep moving forward and enjoying being kids.

Children Generally Have Type I Diabetes

The vast majority of children with diabetes have Type I, which is a condition in which their pancreas doesn’t make the level of insulin the body needs for proper blood sugar control. This is also called juvenile diabetes, and can occur anytime in the formative years. Children most commonly develop this condition in elementary school, but in some cases it doesn’t appear until junior high or high school. No matter the age of the child, though, it’s a condition that is chronic and that they will have to manage for the rest of their life.

Because of their condition, there’s a risk that the sugar in the blood stream of diabetic children will rise to dangerous levels. This can lead to complications as the children age, including vision problems, organ damage, and problems with circulation. Proper management, however, can help reduce the risk of complications from this type of diabetes over time. Careful monitoring and control of blood sugar is vital, so if possible, schoolchildren with diabetes should be familiar with how to check their blood sugar and have been trained to stay aware of how they feel.

Working With the School’s Health Team

Unfortunately, being in school can make it easy for children to forget to check their blood sugar levels and ignore symptoms such as headaches, extreme thirst, or frequent urination. These symptoms can come on suddenly, or they can slowly appear over time, but either way they are often pushed aside for homework, recess, tests, playing with friends, and a reluctance to attract unwanted attention.

That’s where the school’s health team comes in. Generally, the health team can include the school’s nurse, the children’s teachers, coaches, advisors, counselors, and any other personnel students interact with during the day. Properly educated and directed, this team can work with the child to make sure symptoms are noted and sugar checks are performed. The team may also include the principal and a staff member specifically trained to help with diabetes and other medical issues.

Parents can work best with this team by meeting with them before the school year starts. That way they can all discuss the child’s concerns and the parents’ worries about what may happen at school. Understanding the child better and having strong knowledge of what’s needed to help can go a long way toward ensuring that the child has a good school experience and manages their diabetes successfully. Parents should also check in periodically throughout the school year to update the health team on any changes in the child’s diabetes-control regimen or medication needs.

Students Should Have Health Care and Learning Plans

When a student has Type I diabetes, they need a more than just a health care team. They also need plans for how they’ll stay healthy and how they’ll keep learning. Their condition may, for example, cause them to miss some days of school, and they may also need to leave class occasionally to check their blood sugar or take their insulin. Teachers and staff need to allow this, because it’s a vital part of managing a chronic condition that the child cannot change, but there also needs to be a plan in place that allows the child to keep up with assignments and homework even when their condition forces them to miss class.

Children who have Type I diabetes may also not be able to handle school as effectively as their peers. If their blood sugar starts to drop too low or rise too high in the middle of a test, for example, they need to be able to be excused to address it. Whether a teacher is on the health team or not, they need to know in advance that this type of thing can happen and that the student in question isn’t trying to get out of a test. They are sick, and need care. This is important information, and one of the biggest reasons to craft a health care plan that the school and the student (and parents) can agree on.

The health care aspects of the plan will include how and when blood sugar will be checked during the day. It will also address what to do in the event that a child’s blood sugar is high or low. It should indicate where testing and medication supplies will be kept and how the student will access them. In addition, a plan should indicate when parents will be notified and what specific steps are to be taken to help students through any issues that can arise with their blood sugar. Insulin storage and a safe place to dispose of needles will be in this plan, too, to ensure that other students are also safe and protected.

Emergencies Need To Be Planned For

An emergency care plan is another vital aspect of the overall school plan for children who have Type I diabetes. A lot of students who have diabetes will have emergencies. These can be life threatening if they aren’t handled quickly and correctly, and trained school personnel are generally the ones who handle them. However, some schools are underfunded or may not have trained personnel, and they may not even have a nurse on staff every day of the week. For children who are in this type of situation, further careful planning is needed to protect them.

If there isn’t a nurse or other medical provider on duty at a school, there may be teachers who have medical training or other options to consider in order to help students with Type I diabetes. Because low blood sugar can quickly cause a loss of consciousness and because high blood sugar can lead to dangerous reactions, students should learn to recognize when they are starting to feel poorly so they can do something about it before it becomes an emergency. In the event that is not possible, students will need to know who they can turn to or who will help them, and an emergency plan should provide that information.

Helping Students Implement Proper Care and Treatment Protocols

Teachers, medical staff, and others who are trained to do so will need to help students with care and treatment protocols. For example, many schools have rules against allowing students to have any type of medication with them, requiring students to go to the nurse’s office to have this medication dispensed. This will likely be the case with the insulin needed by diabetic students, so they will want to be aware of the protocols at their school when it comes to getting their needed medications.

Parents can work with the school to help ensure that these protocols are understood and followed, and that they are actually in place and being properly used by the school. Even when rules and regulations are spelled out, school staff don’t always follow them to the letter, and that could be disastrous for a student who needs insulin. Rather than assuming that what is in the school handbook is completely accurate for that school year, parents and students should talk to the school and get direct information about how to treat a student with Type I diabetes to avoid serious health risks.

What About Children With Type II Diabetes?

While the majority of children with diabetes have Type I, the obesity epidemic in the United States is producing more children with Type II (adult onset) diabetes as well. Many of these children don’t need to take insulin like their Type I counterparts, but they do need medications that can help them manage their condition. They may also need monitoring to ensure their blood sugar doesn’t fluctuate too much. Type II diabetes is often better controlled than Type I, but that isn’t always the case. If you have a child with either form of diabetes, good monitoring in school is a big key toward better health.

When children with Type II diabetes start to feel unwell, they may need to have their blood sugar checked. They may also have trouble with high levels of exercise in physical education classes, and may need to be excused from some activities. That is important to keep in mind, because children are going to want to play and have fun. They may not realize they are feeling bad or that their sugar numbers are becoming troublesome until they are already in need of help. Monitoring them closely, just like students with Type I diabetes, is important.

People with diabetes are successful in every walk of life, and there’s no reason why students with diabetes can’t be successful, too. By building a team and putting a plan in place, parents can ensure that their children get just as much out of their education as every other child in the school.

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