Medical Conditions and School
I was devastated when my son was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. It was a huge relief to discover why he had been feeling so poorly but nothing prepares you for hearing those words. It changed our lives forever and has presented a whole new dynamic to how we approach going back to school. What do you do when your child needs medicine to be administered during the school day? Who administers the medicine? How do you ensure the staff has been informed of your child’s condition?
First and foremost don’t panic. You need to put in place a plan of action to ensure that your child will be getting all the support that they need. The last thing I wanted to do was make my son feel awkward and centered out but at the same time I needed to know that the entire staff was aware of his condition and that steps were in place to ensure his safety.
I am not going to lie it was a chore to get everyone on the same page and we did encounter some road blocks but I stuck to my guns and made sure that the school got on board.
DO NOT ASSUME THE SCHOOL HAS ANYTHING IN PLACE TO ADDRESS YOUR CHILD’S SPECIAL MEDICAL NEEDS.
The first thing I did was go to our physician. I wanted to pick up flyers explaining the signs of a diabetic high and low. I made a list of what symptoms my son usually displays when he is experiencing a high or low because they can vary greatly.
In my sons case he got very, very moody and even rude when his blood sugar was too high and this is easily mistaken for being drunk or disrespectful. He becomes unresponsive and although he is conversing he will not remember anything that transpires once his blood sugar is returned to normal which can only be done with insulin.
If his blood sugar gets too low he gets very lethargic and sleepy and he requires a juice or carbohydrate immediately to bring him back to normal.
PLASTER THE CLASSROOMS WITH FLYERS AND INSIST THAT ALL TEACHERS BE EDUCATED ON YOUR CHILD’S SPECIFIC NEEDS.
I made arrangements to go in and speak to all his classes regarding his requirements and to educate them on what to expect. I also spoke to his teachers individually. I met with the principal to make sure plans were in place to educate any substitute teachers. I provided the school with a diabetes poster and attached a picture of him to be kept in the office. This whole process took several weeks and was an uphill battle.
DO NOT BACK DOWN. MANY OF THE “RULES” THAT THEY HAVE IN PLACE ARE NOT RULES AT ALL JUST PREFERENCES.
My son requires insulin in order to eat as well as snacks throughout the day. He also needs to test his blood sugars before eating or when he is feeling either high or low. The problem was the school considered his lancet (the device he uses to poke his skin to produce blood for testing) to be a weapon. The same held true for this pen needle for injecting his insulin. I was in shock when I heard this. They tried to insist that both of these be kept in the office and that he go there each time he needed to test and to give himself insulin. That was not going to happen and the battle began.
My son was old enough to test and administer his own insulin. When my son feels off he needs to test immediately. They wanted him to travel to the office, request his device and then test. This was unacceptable to me. The time it would take for him to travel there while experiencing a high or low could mean the difference between averting a crisis and preventing a trip to the hospital. I wanted his diabetic kit on him at all times. He had a special pack that he wore that holds everything including snacks. They also wanted him to travel to the office to take his insulin. My demands were simple. My son would keep his kit with him at all times, could test in class when necessary and have a snack during class. He also need to go have access to the closest bathroom on each floor. In this case it was the teachers bathroom. A newly diagnosed diabetic has to urinate frequently and they are unable to hold it. In his one school the children s washroom was on the first floor while his classes were on the second. I needed to ensure that he could get up and go immediately and not have to worry about raising his hand to ask for permission or travel two flights of stairs. Sadly some teachers are bullies and when your child is young they can be intimidated.
IF YOUR CHILD IS NOT OLD ENOUGH TO DEAL WITH THEIR CONDITION THEMSELVES YOU NEED TO PUT IN PLACE A SET OF PROCEDURES THAT NEEDS TO BE FOLLOWED.
Does your child need medication to be administered during the school day? Where will the medicine be kept? Who will administer it? Who is the backup person should the regular person be unavailable.
One teacher said to my son “I am sure you can hold it for a few more minutes”. The last thing your child wants is to cause a scene or stand out. By the time he got out of class it was too late and he did not make it. He left school and came directly home. You can imagine my shock when he showed up upset and humiliated. They had no clue he was gone. Needless to say the teacher and I had words and I also reported them to the board of education.
My son was given access to the teachers bathroom on each floor and permission to leave class when necessary without obstruction.
DO NOT TAKE NO FOR AN ANSWER. I actually had to threaten legal action at one point.
The school did drop the ball on a few occasions especially in regards to substitute teachers. One teacher tried to prevent him from having a snack while another told him to go to the bathroom to test. Luckily I had educated his entire class and they promptly informed the teacher that my son had special privileges.
BE VIGILANT. CHECK WITH THE SCHOOL OFTEN TO ENSURE THEY ARE FOLLOWING PROCEDURES.
I did this after each break to refresh everyone. As my son got older he was able to speak up for himself. When they are younger I found that many teachers tried to intimidate him. I also repeated the entire education process at the beginning of each school year.
BE PREPARED TO REPEAT THE ENTIRE PROCESS WHEN YOUR CHILD CHANGES SCHOOLS.
I was actually shocked to learn that each school had their own set of rules. I use the term “rules” loosely because there was nothing written down. It was simply the way they did things.
As my son got older and more independent I wanted him to have a cell phone on him at all times. When he entered high school a whole new set of problems arose. The schools policy forbid any student from using a cell phone while inside the school walls.
On one occasion my son started to feel badly. He was in between classes and pulled out his phone to call me and request that I come pick him up. A teacher saw him and made him go outside. My son tried to explain he had special permission but the teacher was unrelenting and since my son was experiencing a low he was not in a position to continue to argue. By the time he got outside he was barely coherent. When I answered the phone I could barely make out what he was saying. I jumped in the car and off I went. I kept him on the phone and rushed to the office. The search was on to find him. He was eventually located wandering the school grounds. You can imagine my fury. I demanded to know what teacher did this but they would not come forward. I was able to locate the teacher who made my son go outside only because a student came forward. He had witnessed the entire thing. The student was not aware of my sons condition and thus did not speak up. I had some choice words for the school and for the teacher in question. They were reprimanded and I know I could of handled it better but mom mode kicked in. This teacher went out of his way to make my sons life difficult. He accused my son of acting rude and suspended him for 3 days. I learned there is no recourse for this. Once the suspension is in place they are not permitted on school grounds. You cannot appeal it and when you try they tell you that it does not go on their permanent record and there is nothing they can do.
I told the school when he gets low or high one of the symptoms is a moody and abrupt behavior. My son was in fact having a low. Teenage years and puberty wreak havoc on a their systems. It is even worse when they have medical condition as their insulin dosages change continuously. Our battle with this particular teacher continued throughout the year and it took me til years end to convince the school that the suspensions (3) were not warranted and the teacher was acting out of malice. I spent weeks on the phone with the school board and made several visits to them. That teacher did not return in the fall.
Another situation arose when the school tried to restrict my sons access to his testing kit. They wanted him to keep his kit in his locker. Once again they were insisting that the lancet and needle were weapons and posed a threat to other students.
The idea that my son would pull out his lancet and brandish it as a weapon was ridiculous. It became apparent that the school had no idea what these devices looked like and were simply putting their own needs first. The needle on the lancet is 1 mm long and the pen needle is 4 mm long hardly a threat to anyone. Regardless of their policy my son was going to have his kit on him come hell or high water.
This was a huge battle with the school but I stuck to my guns and we worked it out.
My son experienced many medical emergencies during grade 9 and 10. He was taken to the hospital on several occasions. I battled the school insisting that they call me first and then call the ambulance but I was only partially successful. If my son was able to call me and alert me he was feeling poorly then I could get to the school within 4 minutes. An ambulance could take up to 10.
DO NOT ASSUME THE SCHOOL HAS ANY PROCEDURES IN PLACE TO DEAL WITH YOUR CHILD’S CONDITION.
If they do have procedures make sure you get them in writing and feel free to make alterations based on your child’s needs. Our kids are our first priority and each situation is unique.
MAKE THE SCHOOL LISTEN. PRESENT THEM WITH YOUR SET OF PROCEDURES AND INSTRUCTIONS AND WORK FROM THERE AND DON’T GET DISCOURAGED.
I actually pulled my son out of school on two occasions until I was confident his needs would be met. We did not know it at the time but my son was also suffering from Addison’s Disease, a very rare auto immune disorder. The symptoms mimic a diabetic low and went diagnosed for almost two years. He was unable to continue in school and we began home schooling.
I am not saying you will experience all of these problems but it is important to be aware that you could. I hope that by sharing my experiences I can give other parents a heads up and maybe steer them in the right direction.