As your teen with Type 1 diabetes transitions to high school, it’s hard to balance letting go and keeping a watchful eye. Remember that all parents, with Type 1 diabetes in their lives or not, are doing the same balancing act. We just have one more thing to try to fit in. As a high school teacher, I’ve helped kids make the leap from immature freshman to graduating senior. And last year, I had the experience of sending my Type 1 daughter, Kate, into that world.
1. Create a plan for diabetes care in school aka the “504”
Talk to your teen and endocrinologist about how to approach diabetes care during the school day. Also, contact the school nurse and/or guidance counselor before the school year starts. Some schools require students to still go to the nurse’s office for checking blood glucose and dosing for insulin. Our school has no nurse, so we have a “team” that includes Kate’s counselor, school secretary, and attendance officer. However, Kate prefers self-care in the classroom. She checks and treats in place. To find out if your state allows self-care in the classroom, go to http://www.diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes/parents-and-kids/diabetes-care-at-school/legal-protections/state-laws-and-policies.html Private schools, such as ours, do not have to do an official 504 plan; however, it’s important to have a plan on file for use with standardized testing such as the SAT/ACT in order to have accommodations. What accommodations should you ask for? That is up to you and your teen to decide. Kate only asks for a few things–the ability to check/treat in place, no need for chaperones on field trips, three staff members to be her “team”, permission to eat/drink in class and to use the restroom at any time, and if high or low, she must be accompanied by another person. Our school has an attendance policy that doesn’t have “excused” or “unexcused” status with the understanding that students with medical conditions may be absent more that the permitted number of days with no penalty.
2. Build a relationship with the faculty and staff. The average high school teacher sees between 125-175 students per day and has multiple special needs students, in addition to students with different learning styles and paces of learning. Whatever you can do to make it easier for the teachers, the better the relationship your will have with them. I provided each of Kate’s teachers with a simple handout on recognizing highs/lows and included her picture. I also gave each teacher a roll of glucose tabs to keep in the classroom.
3. Encourage your child to speak to the teacher about any issues. High school teachers expect students to speak up for themselves. However, there are times when the teacher needs to know more. Follow the chain of command: 1. student to teacher, 2. parent to teacher, 3. parent to counselor (or nurse if it is diabetes related and you have a nurse). At our school, the next step would be parent to Academic Dean before contacting the principal.
4. Follow the Three R’s: Responsible, Respectful, Resourceful. –Be responsible for yourself and your belongings -Be respectful of yourself, others, and their property -Be resourceful–if you have a problem, figure out a solution and know where to go for help.
5. Insist that your teen participate in one extracurricular activity–sport, club, performing art… Try to stick with that one activity for four years.
6. Friendships will change and may continue to change. As parent and teacher, it appears to me that social circles become more pronounced by the end of sophomore year.
7. Meet the parents of your teen’s new friends. It really does take a village. I even keep in touch with parents of kids my teens don’t hang out with anymore!
8. Consider following your teen on social media. Not only will you help keep your teen safe from online bullying and stay up to date on what is going on in their world, but you also learn so much about their likes and dislikes. But keep your presence low key, and be sure to have their permission.
9. Talk and listen. If you really want to know what is going on, be the carpool parent. Freshmen forget about the adult in the car and talk, talk, talk to each other.
10. Remember that they are still kids, even if they look like adults. Their brains aren’t fully formed. Seriously. They still need us. Sometimes, they secretly still want us to post their A’s on the fridge.
The adjustment to high school can be rough for any teen. Having Type 1 diabetes makes it more complicated. But it’s not impossible for you or your teen. Learning to be more independent, while receiving parental support is the best way to growing up.