JDF Countdown for Kids
Get a Plan!

Want to make going back to school easier?
Cop a "take charge" attitude.

by Robert Dinsmoor

Let's face it, your school rules probably weren't made with kids with diabetes in mind. Like, if you're not allowed to eat in class, what are you going to do if you have low blood sugar? Will they let you test in class, or do you have to go to the nurse's office? What about injections?

"Those are issues for your parents and the school, but they kind of filter down to what you need to do, too," says Jean Betschart, a diabetes educator who works with diabetic children in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

She says the key to making things run smoothly is to iron it all out with your parents and teacher ahead of time. In other words, you've got to have a plan.

Taking Control
As you get older, you're probably taking more control of testing your blood and drawing up and injecting your own insulin. But when school starts, will you still be in control? Will the school let you do everything you need to do, without making a big production out of it? The key is to prove that you can do these things and do them responsibly.

Many schools have policies against letting kids test their blood in class. After all, these days people are very concerned about touching other people's blood. But you might be allowed to test in class, either at your desk or at a special place in the back of the classroom -- if you do it responsibly.

This means cleaning up all the supplies, especially the bloody strips and tissues and the lancet. Some kids find that old test strip bottles are a safe and convenient place to put them.

Will you need to take an insulin injection at school? Your doctor might be able to work out your schedule so you don't. If you do take an injection during school hours, you'll probably have to keep the supplies in the health office. If you're not yet able to draw up your own insulin dose, your parents can draw up different doses and the nurse can call them to find out which one to use.

In some schools, kids must keep their insulin in the nurse's office, but this varies from school to school. If you want to be in control of your own injections, be responsible: Be low key about them, and dispose of your syringes properly.

Try This
Since you're learning all this stuff anyway, why not put it to good use? Use diabetes for a science project! You probably know a lot about diabetes, and more about nutrition than most kids.

You can use blood testing to show the effects of different carbohydrates on blood sugar. Or test your brothers and sisters blood, and compare their blood sugars with your own.

Sports? No Sweat!
Being active can help you manage your diabetes if you learn to do it right. If you sign up for a team, you'll need to tell your coach you have diabetes, and your parents will need to tell the coach how to spot and deal with low blood sugar. You'll also want to have candy or juice on hand in case you have low blood sugar, and check your blood sugar before you start.

For really strenuous sports, like football, track, or hockey, you and your parents should talk to the doctor about adjusting your insulin dosage.

One of the most important things you can do is tell your parents when there's going to be a special event, like a field trip or a school assembly, says Ms. Betschart. Events like these can delay lunch or keep you from getting your usual snack which can set you up for low blood sugar.

The more involved you are with your own care, the more you'll feel in control of the situation. You can help make the rules rather than just follow them.

Should You Tell Your Friends?
No matter how shy you are, you will probably at least want to tell your closest friends about your diabetes. That way, they'll be able to tell when you might be having low blood sugar and get help.

Some kids will first find out you have diabetes when they see you testing your blood, injecting insulin, or eating a snack to treat low blood sugar, and that's a perfect chance to tell them about diabetes, even if they're scared to ask you about it.

The more they know about diabetes, the less they will bug you when you eat a snack ("You shouldn't be eating a cookie -- you have diabetes!") or give you a hard time when you have to step out of the classroom.

One way to get it out in the open is to do a class presentation at the beginning of the school year. Dr. Mary Simon, a diabetes expert who works with kids in California, says that even though you may feel weird about it, most kids think it's pretty cool.

Whether you like school or not, one thing is for sure: Going back this fall means big changes for your routine. But a little planning and the right attitude can make it a breeze.

Talk It Out
Use this checklist to remember what you will need to discuss with your parents and your teachers before the school year begins.

* Do the teachers know the signs of low blood sugar?
* How should you let them know if you feel low blood sugar coming on? Should you raise your hand?
* Will you be allowed to test your blood sugar in class, or will you have to test in the bathroom or the nurse's office?
* If you get a low reading, will you be allowed to have a snack in class? Or do you have to leave the room?
* If you have really low blood sugar and need a shot of glucagon, who at the school will be responsible for doing it?
* If you need injections, who gives them?

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