Type 1 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes diagnosed in children of school age. Over 1.1 million children and young adults under the age of 19 are estimated to be living with type 1 diabetes worldwide. Managing this chronic condition is challenging and can place a significant emotional and physical strain on the children affected and their parents. Daily insulin injections, frequent blood glucose monitoring, balancing the food you eat with your insulin regime to accommodate your level of physical activity are just some of the things required to manage the condition and avoid its complications. Having the support and understanding of friends, family and everyone who contributes to the development and well-being of a young person with diabetes are crucial to enjoying a healthy life.
Misinformation and a lack of understanding can lead to stigma and discrimination against people with diabetes. The school environment has a key role to play in addressing this. It is important that teachers, school staff and students are equipped with sufficient knowledge to support children with diabetes and make sure that school is a safe place where they do not feel excluded. Understanding diabetes is a first step for the child with diabetes and their classmates.
The need to promote a safe and supportive school environment for children with diabetes inspired the International Diabetes Federation’s Kids and Diabetes in Schools (KiDS) project. A selection of educational resources is available for children (ages 6-14), parents, teachers and school staff to improve their knowledge of diabetes and help promote healthy lifestyles.
Others have sought to address the need. Brendan McEachern is a middle-school teacher and parent of a teenager with type 1 diabetes. He was concerned with the lack of diabetes awareness among his own students and the limited resources available to help his son connect with his condition. In response, Brendan decided to write a book as a means to engage children and improve their understanding of diabetes. He explains what motivated him to Diabetes Voice.
“Don’t eat that donut or you’ll get diabetes,” said a loud voice over the din of my middle school classroom. Our son was diagnosed in December of 2013, and I kept hearing these loud nuggets of misinformation for years in my classroom. I would pause the lesson to explain the misinformation and give age appropriate responses. These jokes built for years and years about how middle-schoolers thought someone got diabetes. While attempting to spread proper information to teenagers, our own nine-year-old struggled to make connections to his own condition.
We tried to find books containing characters with diabetes for our son. It was highly problematic. He was too old for coloring books and picture books. He was not too interested in the Babysitters Club book series. We just could not find strong chapter books to keep him engaged in reading and learn more about his condition through book characters.
After five years of searching, I asked for our son’s help to put together a middle school book with a main character with type 1 diabetes and how this loveable character handles the daily challenges of diabetes. I created the main character, Zander, and set the story in our hometown area of Salem, Massachusetts. Zander has to struggle with his blood glucose highs and lows while attempting to save his family home, get a job, and stay out of trouble. The book moves the character through many actual locations in the New England ocean side town and roots Zander’s problems in the real world. I played with the success of zombies and have a zombie movie filmed throughout the story line of this book.
Our son would nod at me or shake his head during my drafting of the novel. He was more than happy to be the cover model and drew all the interior drawings in the book. Since the book’s publication, I have had students share with me that they understand a bit more about a friend’s diabetes. Middle schoolers are often reluctant to ask questions about the unknown, and this book is intended to educationally entertain the reader. I am happy when kids read the book, learn about the condition, and spread the word to others. I often ask this question to a student after her or she has finished a book, “What did you learn?” Hopefully, Bolus Blues, answers this question about giving a glimpse into the life of a teenager living with type 1 diabetes.
Brendan McEachern is a middle school English teacher at The Summit Country Day School in Cincinnati, Ohio.
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