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Communication helps children with diabetes

By Patti Drapala
MSU Ag Communications

MISSISSIPPI STATE -- The need to manage diabetes goes to school or daycare with the child who has the disease, but parents and teachers can lessen their anxiety about the child's welfare with communication.

“Communication must be open and ongoing between parents and a child, and also between parents and school personnel, to help the child cope with diabetes,” said Tabitha Staier, family education specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service.

Diabetes is a disease that impairs the body's ability to use carbohydrates. People with Type 1 diabetes do not make insulin, the hormone that carries glucose into the cells. Those with Type 2 either develop resistance to the insulin they make or do not make enough to cover the carbohydrates they eat.

Current statistics from the Diabetes Foundation of Mississippi indicate that 346,500 people in the state, from children to seniors, have the disease. The National Diabetes Education Program, in its 2007 Diabetes −The Numbers campaign, indicated that approximately two children per 1,000 under age 20 in the United States, or about 1,550 children in Mississippi, have diabetes. Type 1 diabetes accounts for the majority of cases of diabetes in this age group.

“Children with diabetes spend most of their waking hours at school,” said Irena McClain, DFM associate director. “Parents of these children have to feel comfortable their children and the school can respond to the ups and downs of diabetes management.”

Diabetes is managed with a daily, lifetime regimen of blood sugar monitoring, carbohydrate control and medication. People with diabetes must be vigilant in following this routine to prevent problems.

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1991 protect people with diabetes from unreasonable restrictions on checking blood sugar and treating a high or low sugar level during school or work. 

Talking openly about diabetes allows parents, children and school personnel to understand the proper response to routine and emergency situations inherent in managing the disease. When parents discuss diabetes in a positive context with their child, they help the child deal with feelings of being different.

“Opportunities are always present to teach children about diversity and acceptance,” Staier said. “We can learn to overcome limitations in life by following a positive example.”

Parents should arrange a meeting with a principal or superintendent to review the school's policy concerning care of children with diabetes. They also should provide staff with information for routine treatment and emergencies for their child. 

“The school needs medical documentation from parents, such as the physician's recommendations and emergency contact information,” said Extension professor Jane Clary of the MSU Food Science, Nutrition and Health Promotion department. “Parents should provide a contingency plan if they want children to participate in band, sports or events away from school.”

Federal law requires schools and daycares to have a plan addressing health needs of children with diabetes and to assign a staff member to handle these situations. Clary said many parents assume the school nurse has this responsibility, but she cautioned that many school districts lack financial resources to have an on-site nurse at each location.

“A physical education teacher or an athletic trainer may have this responsibility,” she said. “Parents should discuss their child's health-care needs with this individual.”

Clary said parents can work with a teacher to build trust and confidence within their child. Teachers who have diabetes can become mentors to such children. 

“The teacher may designate a time during the day to ask the child if he or she is feeling OK,” she said.

The Diabetes Foundation of Mississippi created “It's Not A Sweet Subject,” a training program on diabetes health care for schools, daycares and other organizations. More than 100 schools and school districts booked the training, which is free, in 2007. Participating schools receive an emergency care box containing a glucometer, testing supplies and diabetes care tips.

“This program encourages schoolchildren who don't have diabetes to help those who do,” said Meg Frazier, field representative for DFM's north Mississippi office in Oxford. “With kids wanting to take care of kids, everyone participates in the need to manage diabetes.”

Parents and school personnel can visit DFM's Web site, http://www.msdiabetes.org, for more information. They also can obtain information from the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation at http://www.jdrf.org or the American Diabetes Association at http://www.diabetes.org.

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Released: July 3, 2008
Contact: Dr. Jane Clary (662) 325-5014 or Dr. Tabitha Staier (662) 325-3080