This year, we have a new challenge, a new consideration at the start of the school year. Like most moms, I have to get new shoes and sweatshirts, a new backpack and lunchbox, and purchase some items from a list of suggested school supplies. Since James has had diabetes since he started public school, I also have the requisite 504 Plan meeting during the summer and follow-up with school staff on the morning that school begins. None of that is new for us, and while the preparation needs to be done and can take some time, it is also a lot of fun, signaling (here in California) the change of the season better than any nonexistent shifts in the weather! Since James is entering third grade, we have a slightly new task ahead of us, a road we haven’t travelled yet and that has taken some reflection.
When James began kindergarten, he had the unusual “fortune” of having a classmate with type 1 diabetes. The two of them were in the same class, and together the kids would have their blood sugar tested and receive their insulin before lunch. While James ended up leaving public school during that kindergarten year, the kids of his grade were wholly accustomed to and totally not bothered by witnessing diabetes management tasks. When he began public school again, it was with that same friend and all of their same classmates! There was no need to educate these kids. They’d grown up around type 1 diabetes, and it was normal and acceptable to them.
We ended up moving mid-year during second grade to a new school that hadn’t had a child with type 1 for many, many years. James was confident, unconcerned even, with testing in front of the other kids, never having had any reason to think that his behavior was unusual or undesirable. Unfortunately, we hit some roadblocks early on with the new school administration. In the interim, James was tested in the office and didn’t have the opportunity to show the other children that diabetes and its management is not a big deal to him.
We found out through the school nurse that some of the other kids had started talking about not wanting to play with James because he has diabetes. There were even some rumors about “catching” it. Of course, as a mom, it hurt to see these untruths making my child embarrassed for the first time about his condition. All of a sudden, he stopped testing in public and acted ashamed when I wanted to check his blood sugar at Cub Scouts®.
Because I am his mom and I feel like I really, truly “get” James, I could tell that if something were done about this misconception, he could still get past this incident without permanent harm to his sense of self. It’s hard to explain, but James is very naturally confident and has always been a nonconformist. I could just tell that I needed to act fast to correct the misinformation and the resulting embarrassment. Lucky for us, the teacher intervened with the other children, explaining to them the reality of diabetes and letting them know not to worry about catching it, etc.
For James’ own psyche, I immediately had him test in the classroom. I just knew that once the kids could actually see what he was doing, they would be so over it. Of course the first couple of times that he pricked his finger they were curious, but it quickly became utterly normal and wholly uninteresting. James didn’t mind testing at Cub Scouts anymore. Crisis averted.
But here it is, start of a new school year. While many of these kids now know James and realize that diabetes cannot be caught, I’m thinking that educating them even more might not be a bad idea. So I sit here at my computer and gather information, ideas and strategies to bring to a third-grade classroom. I hope that my presentation can seem “cool,” since my little guy is starting to care about his reputation with his buddies. Wish me luck!
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.
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