Diabetes type 1

School and diabetes

Here the young people interviewed talk about how they fit diabetes around their own life activities as far as education and work are concerned and some of the problems they experienced. They told us how their classmates, their teachers felt and acted towards them once they heard about them having diabetes.

Most young people found that both their primary and secondary schools were supportive. They remember their parents talking to head of year teachers. In some places the diabetes nurse made a point of visiting the school and explaining to teachers what they might need to do in class or on outings and taught them how to recognise and cope with hypos. Sometimes information about a student's diabetes wasn't passed on to everyone who needed to know, so that some teachers didn't know what to do if the student had a hypo. Young people pointed out that no matter how hard it may seem to talk about diabetes with teachers, it is very important that they know all the facts.  

Some of the young people we talked to had missed school before being diagnosed because they felt tired and drained (see also 'Symptoms of  type 1 diabetes'). It could take time to learn how to manage diabetes and some people said that initially they hadn't attended school very regularly. One young boy who experienced severe hypos said he simply couldn't face going to school. (See also 'Hypos'.) 

School itself can be a big thing for young people following diagnosis because at the same time they are learning to manage their diabetes they have to satisfy the curiosity of other students. 

All the young people remember keeping a box with snacks and drinks at school. Most schools made sure that the young people had their snacks at the time as instructed by their parents or nurse, and made it easy for them to do blood glucose tests when required. When they were younger, teachers often reminded them; some were allowed to keep an alarm clock with them or the whole class would shout 'it's snack time'. One young girl said that her mother would come into school at lunch time to check her blood glucose levels when she was having problems with her control. A few young people, however had bad memories because they were not allowed to have snacks in class. 

Occasionally young people said that they felt as though they were being punished for having diabetes - for example one young woman said that her teacher would not allow her to do her injection in class and sent her out of the classroom. 

Young people remember that schools in general did not treat them differently because they were diabetics. However, a few remembered being excluded from some sports and school outings because the teachers didn't want the responsibility. Others said that as young children their parents hadn't allowed them to join in games/activities.

Young people pointed out that it is fine to go away with the school provided you make sure you take enough medical supplies and snacks to last the whole trip. They advised that if in doubt you should always ask your diabetes care team or your GP for advice and information. Also you can ask your diabetes nurse to visit your school and explain everything to the teacher responsible for the trip. (See also 'Travelling abroad' and 'What makes a good consultation with the care team'.) 

Finger "pricking" at school
For some, doing injections or testing their blood glucose levels during school time, can be difficult. In secondary schools, most young people went to the medical room or toilets to do their injections because they felt self conscious and wanted privacy. When they moved into the sixth form though, most were more confident and so began doing their injections in the classroom or 6th form common room. 

Many young people indicated that they do not test their blood glucose levels at school. Several told us they often forgot to do their insulin injections when they were younger because they would rather be with their friends than coping with their diabetes.

Not very surprisingly some young people indicated that their schools did not have appropriate facilities - such as a room they could go to at lunchtime to do injections and blood glucose tests. (See also 'Insulin' doing injections everyday'.) A few young people pointed out that their secondary schools made special arrangement for them like allowing diabetic students to do their injections just before lunch time and being served first in the canteen, which was seen as extremely helpful. 

Many young people indicated that they had had hypos or gone 'low' at school. If they have a mild hypo they would take glucose tables and eat something. Most have told their friends what to do on those occasions. And a few said that they keep a blood glucose monitor at school as well as at home. (See also 'Hypos').

Peer groups at school
Teachers play an important role in helping non-diabetic children understand diabetes and what to do if a diabetic child needs help. Many young people said that when they were younger they had been asked by teachers to talk to the class about their diabetes which had helped, though some found they got annoyed when their classmates asked lots of questions. One young man remembers that before his presentation his classmates thought that diabetes was catching! Others found, once they had talked about their own diabetes, that others - teachers as well as students - were also diabetic which was reassuring. 

Some children at primary school level experienced some bullying in the form of named calling and although mild it can be an upsetting event. One young woman however, found herself been 'picked' by the school bullies because she was 'different'. (See also 'Friends and relationships'.)

Taking exams
Many young people are worried about having a hypo or going high during exams. Some commented that they had failed an exam because of it and had to re-sit the exam. All of them were allowed to take snacks, a drink and glucose tablets with them. In some unusual cases the head teacher might advise a young person to apply to the local education authority for extra time during exams. One girl we talked to who has had severe episodes of hypoglycaemia (hypos) was granted extra time. You won't automatically be given extra time because you are diabetic as decisions are made on a case by case basis. 

Last reviewed November 2014.

Last update April 2010.

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