via Shuttercat7 on Flickr
via Shuttercat7 on Flickr

33 000 Canadian kids went back to school this week with something extra in their backpacks. It might have been a pump, or glucose strips, and likely a note for their teacher explaining what their needs will be as a diabetic in school.

I can’t imagine what it must be like to be a parent of a young child with T1 and to see them head out of the nest and rely on others to accurately understand the measurements of carbs, sugar, and exercise. In fact, some schools won’t even be bothered trying to understand the issue (only 5 Canadian provinces have policies governing the care of diabetic kids in school).

In Alberta, where more than 3500 kids will go to school with diabetes, there is no formal policy to dictate how these kids need to be looked after. Gone are the days of the school nurse to look after kids’ needs, now teachers need to juggle learning disorders, allergies, and health care needs like injecting insulin.

At least that’s what you’d hope would happen.

Brad Kane‘s daughter is a Type 1 diabetic. In kindergarten, they had a teacher take interest in helping their daughter manage her diabetes. Then grade 1 came around and the new teacher’s administration prevented her from helping out with Brad’s daughter’s diabetes management. That caused a big shift for his family.

“We scrambled,” he told the CBC. “My wife had to put her career on hold to be able to go down to the school on a moment’s notice. It was a very difficult time.”

“We tried hard to work with the school to get a sense of what they’ve done with it, but we weren’t able to. The schools in Calgary have a nurse available, but they’re only available once or twice a month. The excuse we were given is the teachers are not medical people, and that’s reasonable, but neither is my 5 yr old.  She’s just a kid and wants to go to school without being a burden on anyone when really the management is quite simple.”

Diabetes is a reality for nearly 1/3 of Canadians, yet, as Brad and his daughter discovered, the stigma is still there. People are afraid of it, they don’t understand it, and some are unwilling to help in a very simple and easy way to help kids manage their disease and participate fully in their school community.

While we’re willing to bend over backwards for kids with allergies, banning food items for the entire student body and insuring epi pens are in the office for emergency use, why aren’t diabetics afforded the same awareness, assistance, and respect for their illness?

Type 1 Diabetes

To combat this stigma, The Canadian Diabetes Association this week released a set of guidelines they would like provinces, school districts, schools, and teachers to follow when dealing with kids with diabetes at school.

As part of the KiDS project, an information pack will be available to teachers, parents and children along with training sessions to educate school personnel on diabetes, the symptoms associated with high and low blood sugar, and how to respond in case of emergency situations.

“By tackling diabetes early on in schools, the KiDS project has a unique opportunity to influence how we perceive and manage diabetes in and outside of school,” said Dr. David Chaney, Senior Education Specialist at IDF.

He continued: “We want children to feel comfortable managing their diabetes in school, while at the same time educating their care-giving network on the best way to deal with diabetes. This project has the potential to make a significant positive impact.”

[Watch the CTV News story on the program here]

It’s a simple request, really. You want to know why I run marathons with Team Diabetes and have raised nearly $50,000 for the Canadian Diabetes Association over the past 11 years? It’s to change attitudes and support programs like this.

Young kids need help understanding the numbers and managing their disease. Older kids need to be supervised in a safe place when injecting. All school personnel should be versed in the symptoms and warning signs for children who may have mismanaged their illness.

I’m not expecting teachers and administration to be medical professionals, but some awareness, understanding, and empathy would go a long way to bridging the gap for kids with diabetes heading back to school.

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