Raising a Child with Diabetes: Going to School

First time moms are typically full of anxiety when they bring home their new baby. As a new parent, you have rational and irrational fears that your baby will stop breathing in the middle of the night, will get sick from germs, the way others hold them, and the list goes on.

When I brought my son, newly diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, home from the hospital it was even scarier for this mom.

My husband and I spent four days in the hospital with my son learning all we could about Type 1 diabetes and how to manage it. When we were discharged from the hospital we were given a list of things to buy to help make the transition easier and a pile of prescriptions that would need to be renewed year over year. I was so filled with fear that I could barely breathe. The changes we had to make to our daily routines seemed never-ending and calculating the insulin my son would need was stressful to think about.

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

I remember being worried that I wouldn’t remember everything and something that I forgot would hurt my child. My husband and son, thankfully, could fill the gaps for me. They had the math down pat while I was good with measuring food. It was such a slow process to get to the food. At seven years old my son wasn’t yet comfortable with checking his own blood sugar or giving his shot of insulin. It was amazing how I could block out the anxiety to make sure my child had what he needed considering my own needle phobia.

We had a list a mile long of things to take care of just so my son could return to his routine at school. Our rural school doesn’t staff a nurse so we worked to develop a plan with the administration and teachers. We set up meetings with my son’s teachers, the principal and the secretary to explain his plan for treatment and what to do in case of emergency. We presented a condensed version of the boot camp we experienced 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.

When our son was diagnosed, he was the only child in the school with Type 1 diabetes, so many things we talked about with the staff was new information. The support we received from our school was amazing and there was even a teacher that was a certified EMT that volunteered to meet my son in the office at lunch to help him with this insulin injection. After a few short weeks, she had him doing it on his own.

Even with a plan in place there were so many other things to think of to ensure we were comfortable with him being at school “on his own”.

  • He needed a water bottle that he kept at school for any hyperglycemic episodes – or high blood sugar.
  • We had small plastic tote boxes at the beginning of every school year that held his snacks in case of a low blood sugar. Those were kept close by in the classroom.
  • At the beginning of every school year my husband and I took a day off work and set up time 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.

Our “lunch ladies” also helped us out. They measured food portions they served and gave me a list of estimated carbohydrate counts for the foods they served. Each day we paid for a lunch from the school and I packed a supplement lunch that included replacements for the items that were just a little too high in sugar content. My husband developed a lunch slip that I printed out and listed each food item to help him learn carbohydrate counting and measurement. 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 in an appointment with his endocrinologist at the beginning of seventh grade. It was not easy to relinquish control and allow him to make his own food choices, but I learned he was truly the one in control. All I could do was provide the options. 

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

I’d say it really does take 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.

We learned a lot of lessons 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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