3 Tips for Managing School + Type 1 Diabetes

Living with Type 1 Diabetes is a daily struggle, and those with or without functioning pancreases would probably agree that school is too. Whether you’re polishing off your last semester of college or a second semester Senior in High School, these tips will help lighten the pressure of Type 1 Diabetes as a student.

1. Make your health a priority

Diabetic or not- your health is SO important. This seems like common sense, right? But there have been times where I’m running late to class but I need to fill my pump reservoir and I don’t, because one more tardy and there’s 5% of my final grade gone. I’ve also had HIGH blood sugar before an exam but was afraid of telling the professor that I can’t finish this test because it might seem like an excuse for more study time. I’ve been there and I’ve learned that continuing on with an exam and trace ketones or being on time with 1.0 U of insulin on you, will harm you more than speaking up about what you need. Remember that your instructor is human, they should understand those needs that you have and if they don’t- there are resources on most college campuses that will have your back.

My college had a Student Disabilities Service where accommodations were provided for those with Type 1 Diabetes. Make-up exams, extra time for assignments etc. are all part of the package. This is instituted to support us, as Type 1 Diabetics, because we can’t always predict diabetes next move. All you need to do is bring a letter from your doctor that includes these specific requests and confirmation on your diagnosis.

2. Communicate with those around you

Professors, teachers, roommates, classmates in a group project, are all people that you’ll encounter as a student with Type 1 Diabetes. When we allow them to understand what our condition requires, successful classwork and student life will be achievable. I’ve felt the fear of disappointing classmates because my blood sugar is low before a presentation (so I’ll inevitably slur my words) or I don’t know how to tell my roommate that I can’t have a conversation right now because my blood sugar is high and making me very irritable. So addressing those in your academic environment about your Type 1 Diabetes as early as possible, will allow for an easier conversation when those hiccups occur.

Type 1 Diabetes isn’t always something people know well, or at all. Explaining what happens when your pancreas stops producing insulin and what happens if your blood sugar is high for too long can be strenuous for both parties. When bringing it up to your roommates or instructors, keep things as general as you can but allow them to understand the possible scenarios. For example, “When my blood sugar is high I might feel like….” “I manage it fairly well, but this disease can be unpredictable day-to-day so I just want you to know incase…” Statements like these address the situations that might happen in the semester in a quick and brief way.

I always ask what accommodations they could make based on this information or if there’s something I could provide them with to help them understand. I’ve had professors say, “Do what you need to do” but also professors who take the liberty to learn more and that way they can be there for me when I miss an exam due to diabetes.

3. Find ways to integrate Type 1 Diabetes into your studies

School is hard. But the idea is for you to learn. I have a hard time learning when I don’t see a point. For some, the point could be just to get an A, but the letters never motivated me the way that my own personal goals do. I always found ways to bring my Type 1 Diabetes into my studies from essays about life changing moments to science projects. I believe the more we learn about our diabetes, the better we can take care of ourselves. That was enough of a “point” to keep me going. I learned about how my body worked and in ways, didn’t work, through nutrition classes, human anatomy/physiology and chemistry. But also explored how my diabetes has impacted me through psychology and anthropology.

This is how I decided to study nutrition. After taking my first nutrition class, I was hooked. I couldn’t believe how well I was retaining the information compared to classes before on topics with little interest to me. This was because I was learning about something close to me, my diabetes. I was understanding why my blood sugar spikes after eating a plain banana but becomes more stable if I pair that banana with peanut butter. By applying my diabetes to my studies, I found a career path I can’t wait to pursue.

Don’t be afraid to be share your experience with this unique, complex disease. I’ve found that by sharing my story in nutrition classes and a food anthropology class during my last year of college, I’m showing people a real world example of the material in the textbooks.