Helping Children with Type 1 Diabetes be Accepted at School

Beth McNamara Health Guide
  • Diabetic kids walk a very thin line. They don't want to be identified first and foremost by their condition. Who wants to be going down the hallway at school and have someone yell, "Hey Diabetes!" or "Yo, Insulin!" Yet, at the same time, they need to make all those around them, from their family and teachers to their friends and playmates, aware that they have diabetes and to look for the warning signs of low blood sugars so that someone can help them if they have a hypoglycemic low. This need often makes those that deal with these kids hyperaware of their condition, and thus forces these kids to be defined only as a diabetic.

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    The definition "only as a diabetic" comes in many different forms and must be endured at home and in the child's school life when dealing with teachers as well as with their peers. In addition, it often means that people are scrutinizing the child's every move, from every morsel they eat, to every routine blood check. Sometimes this scrutiny is meant to protect that child, and others times it's a result of a lack of understanding and even fear of Type 1.


    This scrutiny includes a classmate squealing and saying that's gross when a diabetic child checks her blood. What can be more horrifying than an elementary school girl hearing "Why are you sticking yourself with that? That's disgusting." Or think of the high school student being told to leave the room to check his blood because another child's parents complained of blood born pathogens being transferred by the test strips (yet this parent worried not about bloody noses or bleeding scrapes).


    There too is the overzealous school nurse rifling through a diabetic child's lunch and seizing a cookie from it and then contacting child protective services about the parent's misconduct. This is an extreme example, albeit true.


    My thirteen year-old struggles with the "diabetes definition" daily in middle school, just at a time most adolescents don't want to be labeled anything that's out of the norm. This past school year, he had a computer class following his physical education class and he frequently would experience lows during it and subsequently asked to go his locker to retrieve a snack. On a regular basis, his teacher would announce loudly to the rest of the class as my son would make the request, "Oh, that's right, you have diabetes, so that's okay, go to your locker."


    As parents or adult caregivers, we may be aghast at this type of treatment. We don't want our kids to be singled out in this negative way. However, unwittingly, we contribute to this differentiation. Of course we do. I know I do. I always am looking for signs of trouble; possible symptoms of low or high blood sugars. I even have committed the mortal sin of asking my son diabetes-related questions in front of his friends, "Did you check your blood? How was it? Did you go low? Do you feel okay?"


    Like any child managing a serious health issue, children with diabetes have to grow up fast to seize control of the day-to-day management of their physical well-being. If we step back and imagine how they too literally become "public relations" managers of their own social lives, often running damage control because of all of the unwanted and negative "press" and attention they receive because of their diabetes, it's mind boggling. It reminds me of a never ending mine field. Hats off to each and every one of these kids who do dodge these mines, and do so tirelessly. We all know that they don't want to be labeled "different" or only as "the diabetic kid."


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    Kerri Morrone Sparling, the founder and writer of the blog Six Until Me has reached a certain peace with her Type 1, which she has been managing for about 20 years. Her daily posts tell of the normal life she follows, day-to-day, and how her diabetes is a part of this life. The tagline at the top of her website best explains her take on her condition: "Diabetes doesn't define me, but it helps explain me."


    I hope that I can help my son reach that kind of peace with his diabetes. I wonder though, if it's possible -- what I said to him tonight as he was heading out the door to see a movie with a friend wasn't "Have a good time," but instead was "Do you have your glucose tabs? How about your monitor ..."


Published On: June 23, 2009