School and your child’s type 1 diabetes: a checklist for parents
The start of a school year can be a challenging time for children and families with new routines, teachers and friendships to balance. Throw type 1 diabetes (T1D) into the mix and it can get a little hectic! Whether your child is starting kindy or they’re further along their infant or primary school journey, being organised is the key to having a good school year.
Here are a few things to consider when it comes to your child’s schooling and managing their T1D.
- Start getting ready early
- Put a plan in place
- Get organised with the necessary supplies
- Think about the whole day, not just school time
- Agree on a lunchbox labelling system
- Remember the big picture
- Talking about type 1
Start getting ready early
Start planning early. Approach your school at the start of Term 4 – even earlier if your child is new to the school – to start the conversation about the upcoming school year, and to organise training with relevant staff.
Take a loved one or trusted friend with you to any meetings about your child’s care if you feel nervous or uncertain. You can also talk to your child’s diabetes educator for more details on what you should cover with the school.
Put a plan in place
There will need to be some official documentation created around the management of your child’s T1D. Usually called an Action or Management Plan, these documents need input from you and your child’s healthcare team. It’s important that they’re well thought-out and accurate, as they’ll be the basis for how teachers and school staff will help your child.
Get organised with the right supplies
Being super organised with T1D supplies for school makes life easier for everyone. You’ll need to supply hypoglycaemia treatments, meter and test strips, as well as equipment for injecting insulin if your child is using injections. Some students may also require additional snacks to be stored at school.
Discuss with your healthcare team if it’s appropriate to provide pump supplies (if using a pump), a ketone meter/strips, or a glucagon injection. Divide the supplies so they’re secure and available in the places where your child spends time at school.
Also make sure to work with the school to have a system for replenishing supplies over time.
Think about the whole day, not just school time
Consider how your child will get to and from school, and make sure they have hypo treatments with them during those times. Chat to bus drivers, before and after school carers, and neighbours or parents of your child’s friends to make sure they know about your child’s needs and can help support them.
If your child is old enough to understand and participate in these conversations, make sure you let them know who you’ll be taking to and why. Include your child wherever possible, so they’ll feel more involved and supported by their wider network.
Agree on a lunchbox labelling system
Find a way of organising your child’s lunchbox that works well for their needs. Labelling foods with the carb count or organising them into exchanges are popular methods. Some children also like having extra ‘free’ foods they can have if still hungry without needing insulin.
Make things quick and easy for your child and any helpers to follow – as most parents know, kids usually want to get the eating out of the way to leave more time for play!
Remember the big picture
Of course dosing insulin and treating lows and highs will be the centre of your child’s T1D management at school. But also think about the bigger picture to ensure their school experience will be as positive as possible. Aim to make their time at school as close as possible to the experience of any other student while still getting the help they need – for example, consider how they’ll get help in the classroom setting, how they’ll be monitored during sports, and their canteen visits.
School is an excellent opportunity to forge friendships, learn valuable skills in problem solving, negotiation and communication. Focusing on learning and the social aspects that school brings is vital in assisting your child to feel settled and happy.
Talking about T1D
The way your family talks to others about your child’s T1D will depend on a range of factors, including your own personalities, your child’s age, where they’re up to in their T1D journey, and how recently they were diagnosed. Some families choose to keep their child’s condition as discreet as possible, but it’s likely that at least their close friends will know they’re dealing with something extra.
A basic explanation can help: something along the lines of “Their body doesn’t make any insulin so they need to have some medicine and then keep checking they’ve had the right amount” might be enough for younger children.
There are some good books and videos that might help give a more in-depth explanation. Some children might like to present to their class what T1D is and the amazing job they do managing it. There are no rules – do what feels best for your family, and be guided by your child.
Just a note: these are their peers they spend a huge part of their day with, so don’t be too surprised if your child is nervous when it comes to talking about T1D. As adults, we know that knowledge is power and will naturally feel comforted by the thought of our friends and peers knowing and understanding what we’re going through, but it’s not the same for children. They don’t want to feel different from their friends and classmates, and fitting in makes them feel secure. This is totally normal. But together, you can help them work out a way to help them talk about it in a way that makes them more comfortable.
- Diabetes in Schools (NDSS)
- as1 Diabetes
- JDRF’s private Facebook group for parents of children living with T1D
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