Today is World Diabetes Day – the perfect day to advocate for better inclusion for kids with diabetes.
The theme for 2019 is Family and Diabetes. If you, like me, are the parent or caretaker of a child with diabetes, you will know how important it is for your child to feel included and normal, like every other kid.
I spoke to Gulf News about striving for greater inclusion of kids with Type 1 Diabetes, and the same applies to children with Type 2 Diabetes.
It is unfortunate that diabetes discrimination happens. It’s particularly upsetting when the object of discrimination is to a child at school. It is unfortunate, but there is no place in the world that is free of the potential of diabetes discrimination.
I believe there could be many reasons for this, but my experience tells me that it is most likely due to the misunderstanding of what it really means to have Type 1 Diabetes.
Type 1 Diabetes vs Type 2 Diabetes
Type 1 Diabetes is often confused for Type 2 Diabetes.
People with Type 2 Diabetes (which is the majority of all people with diabetes) face insulin resistance, meaning their pancreas is working, but cannot produce enough insulin to support their body.
This can occur for various reasons. Some Type 2s can eat healthy and exercise to manage their condition, and they may or may not be prescribed medication.
For some reason, much of the general public thinks that managing Type 2 Diabetes is easy, but it is not.
There is this idea that any diabetes can be managed by just tweaking some eating habits, but sadly, this is not the case.
In people with Type 1 Diabetes, their pancreas makes no insulin at all. They are insulin dependent, and have to have several doses of insulin every day.
This cannot be avoided by simply eating healthy.
Type 1 requires a lot of support and management, and can have much more severe implications than Type 2 – particularly in young children who cannot independently manage their blood sugars, or who are learning to become more independent in managing their blood sugars.
It is critical that those around them know how to support a child in their daily diabetes routine as well as know the signs and symptoms of a diabetes emergency, and how to handle that. Even adults with Type 1 Diabetes need support in the event of a diabetes emergency.
Hypoglycemia in Type 1 Diabetes
One of the most common emergencies in Type 1 Diabetes is hypoglycemia, or severe low blood sugar.
Someone with very low blood sugar will need an immediate injection of the hormone glucagon. Once a low blood sugar becomes this low, the child or adult with Type 1 Diabetes would not cognitively be able to administer this themselves. They may pass out, have a seizure, or worse.
Kids With Diabetes At School
Sometimes, once a school understands the severity of what could happen to a child with diabetes, or the care required, it may be frightening for them, or may seem like too much of a liability.
There are cases of children who have been turned away from schools or left out of school activities for this reason, which is heartbreaking.
In other cases, some schools have asked parents if they could provide a private nurse for their child at school. Not only is this a financial burden for the family, but it affects the child socially. It adds to the social stigma of having diabetes.
This is why it is so important to promote better inclusivity for children with diabetes at school and outside of school.
Promoting Better Inclusion for Kids with Diabetes
It is heartbreaking to say that diabetes discrimination happens throughout the world. I truly believe that with the right kind of awareness and education, it can be overcome.
There is no reason that a child with diabetes should be ever left out of a social activity, sport or other event because of their condition. Nor should they be rejected from a school for this reason.
A child with Type 1 Diabetes can do everything that a child with a functioning pancreas can do. They just require extra care and blood sugar checks throughout the day. Emergency situations do not happen often, but like any potential health emergency, one must always be prepared to know what to do in the event it happens.
The Positive Impact of Support for Diabetes in Schools
My son, who is now 11 years old, was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes at 20 months old. He has been through pre-school, primary, elementary and is now in middle school.
I have been fortunate that he was not turned away from any school, and has had the support of some wonderful school nurses. I am grateful that I was able to collaborate “behind the scenes” so to speak to ensure that the health office and his teachers were well-informed, equipped and able to support him when possible. This could not have been possible if the schools that he attended were not open to the idea of collaborating with me on his health.
It was not always easy for me or the school. When my son was younger, especially in the primary years, I would often do things like volunteer to chaperone on field trips where there were no school nurses or no one was trained to support him in his diabetes. I did this to ensure that he was included.
I was blessed to have an employer who understood my need to leave work for a few hours to care for my son, and that the school allowed me to support him in this way. Not everyone has a flexible job to always be in the background to make sure their child’s diabetes is covered in this way. And, not every school will allow a parent on a field trip – even if the child is small and cannot manage independently.
This is why this article on greater inclusion for kids with Type 1 Diabetes in the Gulf News is so very important. Along with my story, you will find stories from other parents and a medical expert about the importance of inclusivity for children with diabetes.
Support for Managing Your Child’s Type 1 Diabetes At School
This issue of potential discrimination and lack of diabetes awareness is also why I created the Ultimate T1D School Game Plan, an online course for parents and caretakers of a school child with Type 1 Diabetes.
As I sit here and write this while I discreetly watch my son run laps around the school track at 6:00 this morning, I am reminded of why it is so important that children with Type 1 Diabetes are included in school and all activities.
He is older now, so I am not always around, but the school usually does not have nurses on site before school starts. But when they are there, they are so in tune with his diabetes and probably any other child they have to care for. While his current school nurses came with a lot of experience, he is flourishing because his nurses and all of his teachers were open to working with me to build in the processes and methodologies I have included in this course.
You Can Help Your Child With Diabetes Feel Included
It is not always easy, but today I am so happy that I can say to you, no longer does the parent of a child with Type 1 Diabetes have to look at a blank page and not know where to start with their child’s care at school.
Enrolment is now open – get your lifetime access now.
What has been your experience of caring for a child with diabetes at school?
5 Essentials for Managing Type 1 Diabetes at School
Relieve some of the anxiety you feel whenever your child with Type 1 Diabetes heads to school for the day.
You'll find tips on educating the teacher and nurse, making emergency snack boxes, traveling on the school bus and more.