Sending your child with diabetes off to school can be a harrowing experience, especially if she's very young. Most children (along with many adults) wrestle with insulin injections and pumps, blood glucose monitors, and other diabetes tools. Plus, your child may have difficulty recognizing when her symptoms are severe, or when she needs to eat.

While you may be able to monitor your child's condition at home, in many cases, school staff often doesn't have the necessary training to help children manage diabetes. This can put your child at risk as blood sugar fluctuations can negatively impact your child's health and behavior in the classroom.

Great strides have been made to create more supportive school environments for children with diabetes, such as a successful 2007 class action lawsuit against the California Department of Education by four families and the American Diabetes Association that ensured legally required services for children with diabetes at school.

Still, if your child has diabetes the onus falls on you to make sure he's safe and participates fully in school. Here are five ways to do it:

1. Increase communication with the school. Make sure that school staff - from the bus driver, principal and office secretary to teachers, coaches and nurses - knows your child has diabetes. The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) states that Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 entitles your child to specific services through written agreements known as the 504 Plan. The following items can be part of your child's plan.

  • Absences related to medical visits
  • Eating lunch at an appropriate time
  • Eating whenever and wherever necessary
  • Full-time nursing supervision in the school
  • Going to the bathroom or drinking water as needed
  • Participating fully in all extra-curricular activities, including field trips
  • Phone numbers of emergency and medical contacts
  • Schedule of blood glucose monitoring and insulin injections, with personnel properly trained in the technique, as well as particular doses

The JDRF has also created an advisory kit that parents of children with diabetes can request so they can better communicate with school staff during the year. You can access it here.

2. Give staff the necessary supplies. Supply the school with blood glucose and ketone testing kits, insulin, unwrapped syringes, glucagon (if needed), glucose tablets, and snacks. Show staff how to use and store the supplies, and ensure that they know where to find them when needed.

3. Give your child a supply kit. The JDRF recommends stocking it with glucose tabs or juice boxes, and complex carbohydrates such as packets of cheese and crackers. You may also want to include snack bars, tortilla chips, and fruit treats or rollups.

4. Let your child wear a medical ID product. These can be lifesavers for your child with diabetes at school, especially if there's a new or substitute teacher, or your child's on a field trip. They're available in bracelets, pendants, shoe tags, and come in a wide range of styles- from hip to kid cute - so your child won't feel too embarrassed about wearing them.

5. Empower your child. Depending on the age of your child, she should know enough information to help control her condition. For instance, even a five-year-old child with diabetes can be shown where their medication is kept at school, or taught which foods she should avoid. Or, a nine-year-old can recognize that her blood sugar is too high, or may not mind testing her own blood or giving herself a shot.

Not every school has funding for a full-time nurse. Getting staff on board and teaching your child to be more involved in managing his diabetes at school will help to improve his overall health and experience.