Raising a Child with Diabetes: Going to School

When first time moms bring home their new baby they are typically full of anxiety. As a new parent, you have a fear of the way others hold them, that your baby will stop breathing in the middle of the night, will get sick from germs, and many list goes on. Some fears are rational; others not so much.

When I brought my newly diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes son home from the hospital it was a whole new fear for this mom.

It definitely takes a village to raise a child, especially if that child is living with special circumstances. It was reassuring to have our rural school rally around us to assure us as a family that they were there to allow our son to attend school without significant interruption or deviation from his class.

After spending four days in the hospital with my son learning all we could about what Type 1 diabetes was and how to manage it we were discharged from the hospital. Part of discharge procedures was being given a list of things that could help make the transition at home easier and a lot of prescriptions that would be renewed year over year. I was so filled with fear that I could barely breathe. The changes we needed to make to our daily routines seemed never-ending and calculating the insulin my son would need was stressful to think about. What if I didn’t get it right?

It was mid-morning when we were discharged from the hospital. This of course, meant that lunch was coming up and with a two-hour drive home it also meant that we’d have to stop along the way. This would be our first finger poke and shot in a restaurant. We had to put in practice everything we had just learned about food measurements and portions, carbohydrate counting and calculating insulin.

 

I was so worried that I wouldn’t remember everything and something that I forgot would be harmful to my son. My husband and son, thankfully, could fill the gaps for me. I was good with measuring food and they had the math part down pat. It was such a struggle to get to food. At seven years old my son wasn’t comfortable with checking his own blood sugar or giving his shot of insulin, so it was a team effort to finally get to eat. It is amazing how I could forget about the anxiety so I could make sure my child had what he needed, considering my own needle phobia. 

 

We had a lot to take care of just to get my son back into his routine at school. Our small school doesn’t staff a nurse so we developed a plan with the teachers and administration. We met with my son’s teachers, the principal and the secretary to explain his treatment plan and steps to take in case of emergency. We gave them a condensed version of the information we learned at the hospital after just learning it ourselves, including how to use his emergency medication in case of a hypoglycemic episode – or severe low blood sugar.

At that time my son was the only child in the school with Type 1 diabetes, so many things we talked about with the staff was new information or maybe a refresher. We received a great deal of support from the staff at the school and there was even a teacher that was a certified EMT that volunteered to meet my son in the office to help him with this insulin injection at lunch. After a short while, she had him doing it on his own.

Even with a plan in place there was a lot to think about to ensure we felt comfortable with him being at school “on his own”.

  • To prepare for any hyperglycemic episodes – or high blood sugar – he needed a water bottle that he could keep at school.
  • We bought small plastic tote boxes to hold his snacks in case of a low blood sugar. Those were kept close by in the classroom.
  • My husband and I were diligent at the beginning of every school year. We’d take a day off work and to meet with the administration and his teachers – including PE teacher, art teacher, his classroom teacher, etc. When our son was in middle school, the administration began to present diabetes care to all staff members before the fall semester began.

The school’s “lunch ladies” also helped us out. They measured the food they served and gave me a list of estimated carbohydrate counts for the foods on the lunch list. For many years we paid for a school lunch and I would pack a supplement lunch that included substitute for the items that were just a little too high in sugar content. My husband created a lunch slip that I printed out and listed each food item to help him learn measurement and carbohydrate counting. The lunch slip also included how much insulin he should dose for lunch. I filled those slips of paper out every day until he mentioned that it bothered him while talking with his endocrinologist at the beginning of seventh grade. It was not easy to give up that control and allow him to make his own food choices, but I learned he was the one with all the control. All I could do was provide the options and hope he made the best decision.

Format for our “lunch slip” – based on a 1 unit / 15 carb ratio and correction of 1 unit / 50 mg/dL for BG over 150

Many of our lessons were learned through trial and error. Check back to hear about how as an athlete our son dealt with highs and lows, being pulled from a game in progress and how to perform while dealing with it all.

Presented by: Tamara Martin

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