Diabetes and School
For Teachers and Caregivers
Are you a teacher who has a student with type 1 diabetes in your classroom? Or are you a parent sending your child off to school? We have you covered; the resources on this page will help explain what type 1 diabetes is, what issues may come up in the classroom setting, and how to deal with diabetes-related concerns in the classroom.
VERY IMPORTANT: Kids with diabetes are still kids! Working together with caregivers, teachers, and medical care providers, we can create a team approach to making school safe.
What is Type 1 Diabetes?
Type 1 diabetes, previously called juvenile diabetes or insulin-dependent diabetes, is an autoimmune disease in which the body destroys insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. Insulin is required by the body to use glucose, the simple sugar into which foods are broken down by our digestive system. Without insulin, the body starves to death. It’s important to note that everyone is insulin-dependent. People without diabetes make insulin in their pancreas.
People with type 1 diabetes must take insulin daily either by injection, via insulin pen, or using an insulin pump. They will also need to check their blood sugar at various points during the day, using a glucose meter, a continuous glucose monitor, or both.
During the school day, students with diabetes might be dealing with low or high blood sugars ... or a combination of both. Let's walk through the signs and symptoms of low and high blood sugar and what you may need to do to help in each situation.
What is Low Blood Sugar and How Is It Treated?
Hypoglycemia, aka low blood sugar, occurs when the blood sugar level is too low, due to too much insulin, too little food, or too much exercise.
Children with low blood sugar sometimes behave erratically or act sleepy, and are often very hungry and shaky. Low blood sugar must be treated immediately by giving the child foods with simple sugars, such as glucose tablets, fruit juice or regular (NOT diet) soda.
If you suspect that a child has low blood sugar, do not leave the child unattended because the child can lose consciousness. Never send a child who you suspect has a low blood sugar to the nurse or clinic alone.
Symptoms of Low Blood Sugar
Symptoms of low blood sugar vary from person to person, but the most common symptoms are:
- Feeling shaky
- Being nervous or anxious
- Sweating, chills and clamminess
- Irritability or impatience
- Fast heartbeat
- Feeling lightheaded or dizzy
- Color draining from the skin (pallor)
- Feeling Sleepy
- Feeling weak or having no energy
- Blurred/impaired vision
- Tingling or numbness in the lips, tongue, or cheeks
- Coordination problems, clumsiness
- Nightmares or crying out during sleep
(source: American Diabetes Association)
What is High Blood Sugar and How Is It Treated?
Hyperglycemia, aka high blood sugar, occurs when the blood sugar level is too high, due to too little insulin or too much food.
Children with high blood sugar sometimes act lethargic and sleepy, and are often very thirsty and need to go to the bathroom a lot. High blood sugar is treated by giving additional insulin and sugar-free drinks, such as water or diet (NOT regular) soda.
Students with diabetes must be given free access to water and the bathroom whenever they feel the need. Prolonged hyperglycemia due to insufficient insulin can lead to a very serious condition called diabetic ketoacidosis, which can lead to coma and death.
Symptoms of High Blood Sugar
Symptoms of high blood sugar may vary, but the most common symptoms are:
- High blood sugar
- High levels of sugar in the urine
- Frequent urination
- Increased thirst
(source: American Diabetes Association)
- Training Resources for School Staff - from the American Diabetes Association
- “Helping the Student with Diabetes Succeed. A Guide for School Personnel” National Diabetes Education Program.
- A One-page Instruction Sheet for Teachers will help you define what your child needs, and is especially helpful for substitute teachers.
- Care of Children with Diabetes in the School and Day Care Settings from the American Diabetes Association
The CWD Back to School resources are made possible through the generous support of Lilly Diabetes.