Teaching the Basics
By Karen Hargrave-Nykaza
Going back-to-school doesn’t just mean work for kids - it means work for moms too. All parents know about the typical back to school chores: shopping for new clothes, sneakers, and school supplies. But parents who have a child with diabetes have an additional list of jobs to do to prepare for the new school year. We have to make sure that everyone in our child’s school knows how to keep them safe while they are under their care. Sounds simple, right? Not necessarily so. Some teachers or administrators don’t think it is their job to learn anything “medical” and they would rather leave it all to the school nurse. That would be fine if our children spent their entire day with the school nurse, but they don’t. In the day of mainstreamed classrooms, make no mistake about the fact that it is every teacher’s responsibility to have a basic knowledge of any special needs your child has, diabetes included.
So once you convince them that they need the information in the first place, how do you go about getting it to them? A few years ago, I started to try to organize the basic information about diabetes under several headings: diabetes basics, what to do in an emergency, physical activity, contact people, and important phone numbers, etc. Each of these headings became the topic for a sheet of paper that went into a folder of diabetes information that I created for school. On the front of the folder I put our son Joel’s picture, and the statement that he has type 1 diabetes, a life-threatening condition. It states that the information found inside the folder is vital to his safety. I make one of these folders each year for every teacher who sees him during the day, as well as the main office, bus driver, and of course the school nurse. I attempt to deliver each folder personally prior to school starting. When that is not possible, I put them in the teachers’ mailboxes in the main office.
You may feel that the school will take any steps necessary to ensure your child’s safety on its own without you needing to be so proactive. Don’t make the same mistake I made by assuming. It is unfortunate, but that is not the way things typically happen in many schools. Diabetes is “extra” when it comes to the things schools have to deal with. They may have no knowledge or experience when it comes to diabetes and they may not be inclined to seek it out. There may be no training or information offered unless you offer it. In addition to the information that you could provide, consider asking your school nurse, your child’s diabetes educator, or medical provider to hold an in-service about diabetes for the school staff. We have done this for the past few years and it puts everyone at ease because they have the information they need.
If you are met with resistance to any of these attempts to educate your child’s school personnel, you may want to consider developing a 504 Plan for your child. A 504 plan can put certain provisions in place to assist your child in any way that is needed because of his diabetes. These might include things such as being granted unlimited access to the bathroom and water bottle, being given more time to take tests if there is a blood sugar issue; it may even include a statement that he or she cannot be restricted from having the edible treat that the rest of the kids are having.
When educating at school, don’t forget your child’s classmates! They will have more questions than anyone and will probably be the most captive audiences you will get to teach. In elementary school, I went into Joel’s classes during the first week of school and educated the class about diabetes in an age-appropriate tone. You may have to be the person to teach them about diabetes. Don’t be hesitant to be that person, and don’t take no for an answer when your child’s safety is at stake.
* More detailed information and suggestions about what to include when providing information to schools and developing a 504 Plan can be found in the book, My Child Has Diabetes by Karen Hargrave-Nykaza . The book is available at www.amazon.com or www.barnesandnoble.com.
Read more of Karen Hargrave's columns here.
dLife's Daily Living columnists are not all medical experts, but everyday people living with diabetes and sharing their personal experiences. While their method of diabetes management may work for them, everyone is different. Please consult with your diabetes care team to find out what will work best for you.
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