Kaitlyn was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at 3 years and 3 months old, so she has never experienced school without diabetes in tow. In fact, I don’t think she remembers what life was like before she had diabetes. In her early school years, we were afraid to let her out of our sight. She often spent long periods of time in the nurse’s office and became really comfortable with the entire office staff. It didn’t really matter how much class time she missed while she was sitting in the office. She was happy and looked after, and she could easily skip or make up the work later. I knew she would get what she needed and not fall behind academically.
Well, fast-forward seven years and it’s quite a different story in middle school. Diabetes hasn’t changed — it’s still here! And while we have better tools to monitor her blood sugar, Kaitlyn still goes to the office at least twice every day. However, the schoolwork has become much more rigorous. It does matter now if she misses time in class. Every minute of class missed while she’s in the nurse’s office is a minute of work or instruction that she has to make up later.
Recently, while looking over Kaitlyn’s grades, I realized that for one of her classes, she was missing several assignments in her “bell work” just because she wasn’t there at the very beginning of class to complete it. While the teachers are very accommodating and give her extra time to complete it, it’s still more work to do later.
At first glance, it might not seem like a big deal to miss a few minutes of class every day. But it adds up. We estimate that she’s in the nurse’s office for about 20 to 50 minutes per day, which adds up to about 150 minutes per week, 600 minutes per month, or 5,430 minutes per year. That’s over 90 hours of time spent in the office! And that’s a pretty conservative estimate.
We often pose the question: Is there a better way? Can we make those visits to the office faster somehow? Should she be taking care of more diabetes tasks on her own and going to the office less? As she prepares for high school in a couple years, I know we’re going to have to make some decisions about how independent she can be at school. Here are a few thoughts as we consider this transition:
- There should always be a safety net. Even when she goes to high school, I always want Kaitlyn to feel like she has a place to go for help. She should never be forced to take care of something on her own if she’s worried or just needs some time to work it out. The nurse’s office should be a safe haven at any time of day, during any activity, sport, or academic class.
- We should make use of our technology as much as possible. Kaitlyn’s continuous glucose monitor (CGM) has been a lifesaver — literally — and the ability to monitor her blood sugar from home makes it possible for us to feel more comfortable with her being more independent. Her cell phone is another lifeline that will become more and more important as she spends less time with a nurse and more time taking care of things on her own. A quick text conversation with me can usually take care of any question she has.
- We need to trust Kaitlyn. The fact of the matter is, they are really overprotective of Kaitlyn at school — which I have always thought was a good thing. I would much rather they be too careful than not careful enough when it comes to her health. However, I’m starting to change my tune a little bit. Teachers will often send her to the office if they have any concerns or questions about anything — an alarm going off, her CGM being out of range, an “almost” out-of-range blood sugar number. I get it: They don’t want to be held responsible for anything bad happening. Lawsuits are a real thing! But sometimes, it’s completely unnecessary for Kaitlyn to go to the office for something she can take care of on her own, and I hope that as she becomes more and more independent, we will all learn to trust her more.
Disclaimer: The experiences and suggestions recounted in these articles are not intended as medical advice, and they are not necessarily the “typical” experiences of families with a child who has type 1 diabetes. These situations are unique to the families depicted. Families should check with their healthcare professionals regarding the treatment of type 1 diabetes and the frequency of blood glucose monitoring. Jen and Kim are real moms of kids with type 1 diabetes and have been compensated for their contributions to this site.