If your teenager has type 1 diabetes and is heading off to college this fall, you've got more to do than order extra-long twin bed sheets and figure out if the new roommate wants to bring the Wii or the microwave. Actually, you should start planning months in advance to help ensure your child's smooth transition to college life. "We start preparing students and parents in April," says Margaret Pellizzari, RN, CDE, assistant nurse manager in Pediatric Endocrinology at Cohen Children's Medical Center of New York in New Hyde Park, NY. "It's a good idea to get ahead on all the paperwork, for one thing."

Here are some steps to take before school starts:

1. Once your student knows what college she'll be attending, ask your health care provider about resources for college-bound students.

Pellizzari teaches a course called "Going to College with Diabetes" based on the American Diabetes Association's Safe at School guidelines. The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation also publishes a helpful guide on the topic.

2. Contact Student Services at the college well in advance and explain that as a student with type 1 diabetes, your child has specific needs.

For instance, it's helpful for an individual with type 1 diabetes to be in a double or triple rather than a single room. "We encourage roommates," Pellizzari says. This is because if your child is prone to diabetic hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), it's a good idea to have another person who knows about the diabetes and can help if needed. Also, ask that your child's dorm be near the dining hall, and request permission for him to have a refrigerator in the dorm room. This ensures that snacks will be readily available and insulin will be kept cold.

3. Discuss medical issues with the appropriate people.

Let your child's roommate, as well as the Resident Advisor and the staff at the student health center, know about the diabetes. These individuals also should be taught to recognize and treat the symptoms of hypoglycemia, which requires prompt intervention.

In addition, someone should have a conversation with your child about drinking alcohol, and how it can affect blood sugar, says Neesha Ramchandani, PNP, CDE, Pediatric Nurse Practitioner in the Division of Pediatric Endocrinology and Diabetes at the Children's Hospital of Montefiore Medical Center in New York City. "There should definitely be a discussion of drinking while at college," she explains. However, "It should be open-minded and non-confrontational, or it won't be well-received."

4. Make sure your child wears a Medic Alert bracelet, and that all the contact information on it is up to date.

Be sure your child's cell phone is programmed with the numbers of any health care providers he may need to be in touch with, says Anita Swamy, MD, medical director of the diabetes program at La Rabida Children's Hospital in Chicago. "Review all the doses of his medications, and see about transferring prescriptions to a pharmacy near his college," she suggests.

5. Don't expect to hear from your student every day.

Remember the old adage: No news is good news. "Don't worry." says Ramchandani. "Kids with diabetes can do anything they want to."

Anita Swamy, MD, reviewed this article.



"5 Tips for the College Bound Student with Diabetes."  Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. Web. 28 August 2009. Page accessed 7 August 2013.

"Going to College with Diabetes: A Self Advocacy Guide for Students." American Diabetes Association. Web. April 2011. Page accessed 7 August 2013.