Diabetes is one of the most common chronic diseases in school-aged children and affects about 200,000 young people in the United States alone. The American Diabetes Association states that one in 400 to 500 children and adolescents under 20 years of age have type 1 diabetes. Here are some tips for teachers of students with diabetes.
- Remember that every child with diabetes is different. Each child with diabetes may have different symptoms of low blood sugar. Situations that can affect your student’s blood sugar are insulin, foods eaten, exercise, illness, stress, and any changes in routine.
- Be discreet. Don’t draw unnecessary attention to your student’s condition. A student with diabetes may have to eat snacks periodically in the classroom. Remember, he or she must eat whenever they feel low in blood sugar. This is not the student’s choice, but a necessity!
- Provide inconspicuous and gentle reminders. Pay close attention to your student’s regular snack time. Younger children may not remember their snack time. Pass the student a note or work out a unique password between the two of you to remind him or her of snack time.
- Don’t “label” students with diabetes. Never single out a child as the “diabetic kid.”
- Don’t sympathize; empathize. Children with diabetes need understanding, acceptance and support, but not sympathy.
- Be prepared. Always carry a quick and portable snack such as crackers or a small can of juice when you and your student with diabetes leave the classroom or the school grounds. Examples of such times include fire drills, field trips and special presentations and assemblies.
- Never leave a child alone when he or she is experiencing low blood sugar. If your student with diabetes says that he or she feels low in blood sugar, give the student a quick-acting carbohydrate snack such as fruit juice, regular soda or glucose tablets. If your student with diabetes needs to see the school nurse, always have another person go with that student.
- Allow unrestricted bathroom breaks. Let the child know that it’s okay to go to the bathroom whenever necessary, and have a water bottle available for when his or her blood sugar is high. If his or her blood sugar is high, the body’s natural response is to eliminate the extra glucose by using the bathroom.
- Be patient. The student with diabetes may have minor problems with organization. Both high and low blood sugar levels may make it difficult for the student to concentrate at times. You may have to repeat some things, especially if the student has been to the nurse’s office during class time.
- Communicate with all involved. Work as a team with the student with diabetes, his or her caregivers, the school nurse and other educators. If there’s a special school party or occasion where “treats” will be served, let the family of the student with diabetes know in advance, if possible. This will allow the family to discuss options with the child so that he or she can make responsible choices. Often, treats can be worked into the child’s meal plan.
- Learn as much as you can about diabetes in children. Consider completing a training program to enable you to perform essential key diabetes care tasks such as blood glucose monitoring and insulin and glucagon administration. Your willingness to do so will help ensure your student receives proper care and attains optimal academic performance.
– Nancy Klobassa Davidson, R.N., and Peggy Moreland, R.N.