One day, when Trudy Adams’ son, Dylan, was lying down for his afternoon rest period in junior kindergarten, he began convulsing and lost consciousness. Dylan has type 1 diabetes, and this was exactly the kind of crisis his parents feared when they sent him off to school: Dylan’s blood sugar had dropped so low he needed a life-saving injection of a medication called glucagon, which wasn’t on hand, since school personnel had been reluctant to learn how to administer it. Thankfully, Dylan’s dad, who got to school faster than the ambulances, was able to give the shot, and Dylan bounced back.
Adams is one of many parents who worries about their diabetic kid every day. One in every 300 Canadian kids has type 1 diabetes, and according to new survey data released by the Canadian Paediatric Society, the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, and the Hospital for Sick Children, nearly one-third of Ontario parents whose kids have the condition aren’t confident the school staff can keep their kids safe, and nearly 13 percent have to go to school at least once a week to monitor their child’s care.
However, a new online resource for parents and school staff should help prevent near-misses like Dylan’s, while providing peace of mind for the parents of kids with type 1. Intended to ensure kids with the condition can participate fully and safely in all aspects of school life, Diabetes@School features accurate, easy-to-digest lessons on topics like how to recognize and treat hypoglycaemia, as well as a just-launched series of engaging animated videos. All of the content carries the authority of health professionals and experienced parents, who helped create the resource with the Canadian Paediatric Society, in partnership with Diabetes Canada and the Canadian Paediatric Endocrinology Group.
Your back-to-school health questions answered
“Type 1 diabetes is one of the most stressful diagnoses for families, because it changes the way the whole family has to function,” says Michael Dickinson, president of the Canadian Paediatric Society and a paediatrician who cares for many children with type 1 diabetes in his Miramichi, NB, practice. “From hockey practice and piano lessons to birthday parties and going to school, there really isn’t any aspect of a child’s life that a parent doesn’t have to at least give some thought as to how it is going to affect their child’s blood sugar,” he explains. “When a child is diagnosed, we spend a lot of time with families making sure they’re prepared. And then what do we do? We send these kids to school for eight hours a day in the care of teachers and school staff who haven’t got the intensive training that families have. We’re trying to bridge that gap and bring teachers and school staff on board so these children can have positive school experiences.”
According to data from the new survey, more than half of kids with type 1 diabetes do not have individual care plans at school. And only half of provinces and territories have formal policies on the management of type 1 diabetes at school, mandating measures such as individual care plans and training school personnel to provide support.
In addition to offering short, graduated lessons for teachers and school staff, Diabetes@School features a standardized care plan that outlines key instructions, such as a daily schedule of diabetes-related tasks and what to do when a child’s blood sugar is reading below a certain level.
“I used to have my own made-up care plans, and it always made me feel like maybe I was being perceived as asking for things I had no business asking for,” Adams says. The standardized forms, which carry the logos of the Canadian Paediatric Society, Diabetes Canada, and the Canadian Paediatric Endocrine Group, provide legitimacy and a sense that the plan is simply a routine part of school life. (That said, it’s still up to parents to print the forms and distribute them to school staff.)
“I think this is an exciting and innovative program, and a step forward,” says Dickinson. “The better prepared a school can be, the lower everyone’s stress levels—and the more the child can focus on learning, making friends, and participating in extracurricular activities. Because that’s the goal—for these kids to have as normal a life as possible.”