Is your child one of the nearly 150,000 living with type 1 diabetes? Every year, they’re joined by another 13,000 kids, all under the age of 18, who are diagnosed with the disease, according to the American Diabetes Association.
If you’re among the ranks, though, you know what’s at the heart of a diabetes diagnosis: It’s a life-changing condition that requires constant care. Take time to learn how to manage it both at home – and during the school day.
There are two sorts of diabetes. Type 2, more common in adults, is often associated with obesity (though it’s increased among children as obesity rates rise). Type 1 happens more often in kids and isn’t directly related to diet. Both share the same result: the body doesn’t process glucose (sugar) properly, so the body’s systems can become taxed from operating without enough energy.
Glucose in the blood is the "gas" for your body’s engines, tucked deep within cells. Insulin ushers glucose into the cells to provide that energy. If the body stops producing insulin, glucose can’t get into the cells and all of the body’s major systems – from the nervous system to the circulatory system can suffer as a result. With diabetics, the pancreas stops making insulin.
Injections – and more
To compensate for the body’s lack of insulin production, diabetic children often take injections. The entire process of injecting and monitoring food intake can be difficult, especially for parents who are trying to help active children. (A common method to gauge glucose levels is a pinprick test to get a small blood sample.)
Along with food intake, parents must take into consideration exercise, sleep patterns and other lifestyle factors that might dictate how much insulin a child needs. Much of this monitoring happens at home, but when it comes time for school, parents work with school staff to make sure that diabetic children receive the attention they need.
Insulin pumps also are an option. These pumps are computerized devices that can be stashed into a pocket or waistband and then are attached by a small tube into the body for more constant insulin flow.
Ups and downs
In extreme cases, if a diabetic child’s blood sugar level drops too low, he or she can go into a coma, which could be fatal. But Cathy Adsit, a nurse in the Plymouth-Canton Community Schools, says that managing a diabetic child’s care is not just about avoiding serious problems. Instead, school nurses help educate parents, teachers and school staff about how subtle changes in glucose levels can affect a child’s academic performance.
"If the blood sugar level is too low, a child may become tired or sluggish," Adsit says. "If a child’s levels are too high, he or she can become irritable. For diabetics, each day is different – and you have to always monitor your glucose levels. I can understand how sending a child to school with diabetes can make a parent anxious."
That’s one reason she’s in constant contact with parents, updating them about their children: "I communicate with parents of diabetic children at least once a day, either with a phone call, or an e-mail or with notes home. It’s important for parents to know that there’s an open line of communication between them and the school."
Parents draw support for managing their children’s condition from a variety of sources, including family members and pediatricians.
Another vital part of caring for their kids is school staff. School nurses not only ease parents’ fears about their children staying safe in the classroom; they also help educate teachers and other students about the child’s condition for those seven hours or so she’s away from home.
For other resources, try the Michigan Diabetes Outreach Network or Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation International.