Preparing your child for starting a new school is a really exciting time for you both.
If your child is managing type one diabetes, you’ll need to consider more than just a new uniform, shoes and a haircut. You’ll also be planning strategies to build a strong partnership with your child’s school so your child navigates this transition smoothly and successfully. This will be particularly important if they are going into Year 7 (or above) as your child will be given a lot more independence.
Depending on your child’s age and how long ago they were diagnosed, you might already be fully on top of it. But if it’s all-new, we’ve gathered some tried and tested tips to help you ensure your child is safe - and feels confident and secure - in their new school.
Here are our 7 top tips for starting school with type one diabetes
Start by informing the school as soon as possible that your child has type one diabetes: usually you would do this when you accept their school place or as soon as they are diagnosed – whichever comes sooner.
Meet with the key people who will be involved
Arrange a meeting with school before or at the start of term to discuss the support your child will need with their type one diabetes. This should cover your child’s individual healthcare plan (IHP), school medical policies and any other aspects you feel relevant. This can include how to manage their CGM, their insulin pump, and any specific-needs your child may have.
Typically, you’ll need key members of staff, including:
- Your child’s new class teacher (and teaching assistant (TA)).
- Your child’s pediatric diabetes specialist nurse (PDSN).
- Your child’s new headteacher and head of year.
- It might be appropriate for your child to be included too – that’s your/their call!
- If your child’s moving up to Year 7, it might be useful to invite the member of junior school staff who supported them.
- Ask their previous school to do a hand-over with the new school of any specific advice and methods they found helpful.
- The school’s SEN specialist should be there too, if your child is receiving SEN support.
- Any relevant after-hours staff (eg breakfast club/after school).
- Finally, if your child gets transport to school, you may want to loop in their bus driver or train buddy.
Find out the essential school procedures
Ask to see the basic procedures that the school should have in place to support your child:
- A medical conditions policy – the actions your child’s school needs to take to ensure your child is looked after and fully included in school life.
- An Individual Health Care Plan (IHP) – plan for the management of your child’s diabetes during school time. Make sure it is clear how and how often this will be reviewed. As your child’s needs change, to ensure they are getting proper care, there should be at least one review per year.
- At least two members of staff at your child’s school should be fully trained to support your child and their diabetes.
- If your child isn’t self-administering their insulin, you and the headteacher will be required to provide written permission allowing a staff member to administer it.
- Agree a key central contact within school to funnel any vital information through and clarify the best way to contact them.
- Make sure the school has an emergency contact for you (and an alternative emergency contact should you be unavailable). You can put copies of this in their coat, lunchbox, and more, just in case.
Help the school as much as you can & be pro-active
The most important and effective way to support your child is to ensure regular and constructive communication with their school and their diabetes team within school.
Check and agree who within school needs to receive training; who will deliver it (your PDSN might be best placed) and when; and what training is required. Start with the basics:
- What is insulin?
- How insulin works.
- Low blood sugar episodes, and high ones, and how to treat them.
- How to test a child’s blood sugar.
- What is a CGM? How does a CGM work? (if relevant)
- What is an Insulin Pump? How does it work? (if relevant)
- How access to the child's mobile phone may be essential for their care?
- How your child specifically responds to things & certain types of foods. Everyone's diabetes is different!
- Things to watch out for, like excessive thirst and toilet-breaks.
From the outset, you may also need to explain certain key features essential to your child’s care so they appreciate when/how they will occur. These might include:
- Freedom to use their phone throughout the school day – your child needs their phone to receive essential data, for example if they are using Dexcom G6, Dexcom One, Dexcom G7, or even Freestyle Libre.
- Freedom to eat/drink in class – what they might need to eat and when.
- Freedom to leave class for medical reasons – maybe negotiate a toilet pass, which will be very useful now your child will be under the care of many more staff members and/or supply teachers.
- Freedom to check readings and test - agreeing to where they can do this.
- Concentration and attention spans, memory processing speeds – as these might be affected, your child may require extra support.
You may need to discuss support for your child when undertaking school field trips or activities outside of the classroom; as well as extracurricular sports and clubs.
Raise awareness of Type One Diabetes with the wider school team
Your child’s teachers may need help understanding when they should intervene. Some might not even know there are different types of diabetes! The school’s medical room might not be nearby, so it does help teaching staff appreciate when they will need to step up – or when your child just wants to manage things themselves.
One parent advised us that their child carries traffic-light-style cards that they can display on their desks with no fuss:
Orange – “I am having a hypo and managing it myself. Please let me get on with this.”
Red – “I am having a bad hypo. Please stay with me whilst I manage this.”
Also be open with teachers who haven’t an understanding of diabetes management that it really is a burden on your child, so they can avoid making thoughtless comments which might have a negative impact.
Supporting your child socially
Depending on your child’s comfort level, let them choose how open or discreet they are with their classmates and schoolfriends about their diabetes. It’s very common for children in your child’s shoes to feel “other” or different from their peers.
They may try to hide their diabetes, experience feelings of low confidence or low self-esteem, or worry about being teased. Consider using decorative patches and stickers to improve the look of, and their confidence in, their CGM.
Work with your child, their school and diabetes care team to support them socially and deal with any reactions they have to deal with. Have a strategy in place to deal with teasing – or even bullying – if it does arise.
Ensure there are Diabetes-friendly lunches
If your child’s not taking in a packed lunch, you can help them ensure their lunch choices meet their meal goals:
- If your school posts the lunch menu posted online, help your child choose the foods and portion sizes they need.
- Help your child learn portion sizes for carbohydrate counting, using a meal planning chart or teach them the Diabetes Plate Method.
- Diabetes UK has extensive information on this topic.
Prepare & make sure they have adequate diabetes supplies
Think of practical essentials that need to be on hand:
- A bag/kit/box of backup supplies: stored in a secure location which your child’s teacher is aware of (maybe in the school’s medical office).
- A “low box”: a stash of fast-acting carbohydrates to treat low blood sugars while you’re at school or on your way to/from school. These could include: fruit juice, jelly beans, glucose tabs, smarties, Skittles.
And don’t forget your Dexcom, Libre, or other CGM patches! They’ll keep your device on no matter what they get up to in the playground.
These are just a few initial top tips to get you started. Follow our Insta or TikTok on @typeonestyle for more content and product launches. If you'd like to speak with other parents who's child is starting school with Type One Diabetes, pop us a message on our contact form and we'll try to pair you up with another person.
To browse our Kids range of CGM patches, click here.
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