Q: Our daughter really wants to go to a boarding school that's two hours from our home and has the kind of accelerated classes she needs to be challenged. She would live there during the school year. She has had diabetes for 10 years and is now 15. Are we crazy for even considering this?
A: It sounds like a wonderful opportunity, and there certainly are students with type 1 diabetes who successfully attend boarding school. Is it the right choice for your daughter? Your answer should take into consideration a number of important factors.
First, you should touch base with your diabetes care team. Your diabetes educator and other team members can give you their perspective on your daughter’s readiness. The first question you may want to ask yourself is: how responsible is your daughter with managing her blood sugars right now? Is she independent in carrying out routine tasks, such as blood sugar checks, without the need to be reminded? Does she know how to respond and treat her sugars if they go out of range? Has she demonstrated that she’s able to count carbs in her foods and calculate insulin doses? Is she able to speak up for herself if she doesn’t feel well, is running low on supplies, her pump or glucometer malfunctions, or something else happens that requires her to seek help?
If your daughter passes these kinds of tests with flying colors, the other important factor to take into account is the level of support the school will be able to offer her. Again, your diabetes care team may be able provide you with a list of specific questions to ask the school to make sure they can care for your daughter’s unique needs. Since the plan is for your daughter to live there during the academic year, at minimum, there really needs to be a staff member trained in diabetes care available to her 24/7.
Fortunately, the setup at many boarding schools includes staff nurses and/or medical support staff who do provide round-the-clock, on-call health services to students. The only way to be sure of what’s available will be to sit down with the school to discuss your daughter’s needs.
Whether or not she ends up attending boarding school is ultimately a decision that your family will need to make after weighing all the possibilities. Taking your time, asking questions, and gathering information should help you make the right call.
--Debra Counts, M.D., is chief of the division of pediatric endocrinology, associate professor of pediatrics, and associate chair of clinical affairs for the department of pediatrics at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore.
How Other Parents Deal
“Last summer, our 16-year-old daughter attended a college science program for high school students that involved her living on campus for four weeks. Despite the fully staffed student health clinic, the program’s awareness of our daughter’s condition, and the fact that she has always been rock-solid in managing her diabetes, I didn’t let my phone out of my sight the entire time, just in case an emergency text or call came through. Even though she was ready, it wasn’t easy letting go.”
--Sheila H., Alexandria, Va., mom of 16-year-old Elizabeth
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