How to Integrate New Diabetes Technology into Schools

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With new diabetes treatment devices coming out all the time, it’s easy to understand what a challenge it must be to integrate the tools into a child’s school day. And since my child with diabetes is now 23 (and a half!), living five hundred miles away from me, and working full-time, I don’t really have first hand experience in such things.

Or do I?

Recently something dawned on me: Years ago, my daughter and I were part of a wave of new devices coming out that needed to be integrated into school settings. As early adopters of technology, we had to work at not only figuring out how the technology worked best for my daughter, but how it would work best in the school setting as well.

Believe it or not, I’m talking about insulin pumps.

That’s right, I’m old. Okay, I’m not that old, but my child and I are long enough into this diabetes life that she was the first young child in our state to go on an insulin pump, and the first child of any age to wear one in school in our 11,000 student school district.

That came with the good and the bad. But for me, I saw it as mostly good. It was our chance to work with the school district to find out just how pumps would work in a school setting. And lest you dismiss this as no big deal, remember that back then, children were on NPH and Regular, living on a regimented eating and checking schedule, not often dosing in school, and certainly not carrying their insulin around with them. Pumping was a whole new thing for everyone.

I am proud to say we made it work and work well. And as I look back now, I realize that many of the things we learned then could very well be useful to today’s early adopters of new diabetes technology (such as share technology). Here are some takeaways from our experience:

Give everyone a chance to get educated

I didn’t just show up at school with my daughter on a pump and announce that this is how it would be. Instead, I helped the school personnel (in our case, the nurse, teachers, principal and a few others) learn before we ever showed up with her on the pump.

Since pumping was new to younger kids, I was able to get my daughter’s pump manufacturer to send an employee for a teaching session. Even if this is not possible today (and it is probably not, given that technology adopters are more numerous in today’s world), you can supply schools well ahead of time with links, articles and even user guides to whichever tool you’ll be adding to your child’s life. Take the time to allow them to learn (as you did), and then sit down and do a Q&A yourself for any staff involved or interested. Don’t rush into using the new tool at school until everyone has had time to read up. You were fine before it, and you can give the school staff some time to learn, too.

Use a team approach to planning the school setting implementation

It’s easy for us parents to think only in terms of our child and what we see as their needs. But the truth is that we’re not the only special situation the school is dealing with. Beyond that, we want our children to learn by our example. What better way to help them learn to weave diabetes more seamlessly into their lives than to show them that making it work in a school setting is a give-and-take experience?

It’s normal to want maximize use of a new tool, but sometimes in school it takes baby steps. For instance, I might have wanted my child to be able to check and dose constantly right from the start with her pump. But I had to realize that her teacher could not possibly oversee that (she did have twenty-one other children in the classroom, after all), and that my child was not ready to handle all that on her own. So instead, we agreed to incrementally add the many benefits of pumping to her life at school. He first week with the pump, I stayed at school (and mostly hung out in the hallway reading the paper). But I was there to oversee site changes, to pop in for extra checks, and to call the pump company if we had questions. The school, on the other hand, was there to figure out a way to help my daughter embrace pumping without having to leave the classroom to go to the nurse a bunch of times a day. Together we eventually came up with a plan that worked, but it didn’t happen overnight. It took time, and it also required me to understand the school’s needs, point of view and accept how they might need to come up short of what my expectations at home would be.

Expect mistakes

 You make them. We all do. The school is going to as well. Encourage honesty and an open dialogue about potential mistakes. Something like, “You know, this is new to all of us so of course there will be bumps. Let’s take every chance we can get from those bumps to study them and learn from them, rather than worry about them. I will understand if and when something goes amiss.” And then live by that statement.

Provide positive feedback

For us, it was about how much better my daughter’s overall health was a few months into pumping. Sharing her improvement with the school empowered them and led them to embrace technology even more. And they did the same for me: they saw an almost immediate difference in her ability to pay attention and in her overall mood at school, and they shared with me. We buoyed one another through the adjustment times with good news, and it helped us, as a team, to figure things out as we worked it out.

Today, a kid on a pump in school is usually not a big deal. Back then, it was revolutionary. I’m proud that by being understanding, patient and supportive with my child’s school, I played a small role in making it the norm. Now it’s your turn, parents of new diabetes technology adoption. I hope you have the same success.

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