Q: My 10-year-old son has missed a lot of school this year (he was diagnosed in November). His teachers are sending packets of work home each time he’s out, but honestly, it’s too much for me to stay on top of this and his blood sugar. What can we do?
A: Before your child returned to school after his diagnosis, you most likely sat down with his teachers and the school nurse to discuss the specifics of how your son’s type 1 diabetes is to be managed during the school day. Typically, the outcome of this meeting is to put together a written education plan (504 Plan) that documents your son’s medical needs, names of trained staff members responsible for certain care tasks, and any academic adjustments to be made in light of your child’s changed health status.
This is where homework comes in. If your son’s education plan does not adequately address missing or late work due to absences — or the plan is not unfolding as you had hoped — get back in touch with the school to share your concerns and better understand expectations. Try to come to an agreement on basic questions like: What is the easiest way to communicate assignments? What responsibility does your son bear in finding out about homework and class work? What is a reasonable timeframe in which to complete missed assignments? Is your son falling behind on his work? Would it be possible to arrange extra time for your child to meet with his teachers? Or to spend a certain amount of time at the school library each week doing homework?
Parents often find that identifying an ally at their child’s school, whether this person is the school nurse or principal or someone else, can be helpful in easing these kinds of discussions with teachers and identifying potential trouble spots. For example, a child may have an endocrinologist appointment on Friday that simply cannot be missed, but district policy states that if a student is absent from school on Friday, he or she is ineligible to participate in any school sporting event on Friday night. Parents may not be aware of this until they try to drop the child off at a Friday evening basketball game and run into a chaperone who’s not aware of the child’s type 1 diabetes. Clear the air on all these issues and then get it in writing, adding the homework policy to your child’s formal plan.
The amount of school a child with type 1 misses due to diabetes can vary widely, even during the year of diagnosis. Still, because missing at least a few school days is a reality for most kids with type 1, strong home-school communication is a must. It may take some “homework” on your part, but knowing you and your son’s school are on the same team is well worth the extra effort.
–Crystal Jackson is director of the American Diabetes Association’s Safe at School program.
How Other Parents Deal
“After her diagnosis, I felt such a strong urge to have my daughter get every last bit of homework done as a way to prove that she is just the same as any other child in her grade. But spending every waking moment outside of school doing homework actually proved the exact opposite! Now I take a balanced approach. If she misses the occasional day, she turns in the missed work by the end of the week, not the very next day.”
–Gina, mom of Ryan, 12
Disclaimer: The information in these articles is not intended as medical advice. Families should check with their healthcare professionals regarding individual care.