Editor’s note: This is the second in an ongoing series of posts by Oliver Shane, who is a high school student with type 1 diabetes.
Hello everyone, I’m finally a sophomore at William T. Dwyer High School. While technically still a high schooler, I’m also a college student at Palm Beach State College through the power of dual enrollment. With dual enrollment, the back-to-school experience from the perspective of a diabetic student is not quite that of a high schooler or a full-time college student and has its own unique protocol.
The first thing I do is about a month before the start of the school year is to reach out to the Center for Student Accessibility at my college, Palm Beach State. Either in person or through email, I provide my counselor with a note from my endocrinologist stating I have type 1 diabetes and a wish list of accommodations and my high school 504 plan. While community colleges don’t have 504 plans, I think it’s helpful for my college counselor to see my high school accommodations. My accommodation wish list discusses a variety of important medical information about my diagnosis and how I need to manage it. My current counselor at Palm Beach State College talked to me about type 1 diabetes and then discussed with me what the best accommodations would be. (Note, this experience is the first time I was responsible for getting accommodations without parental influence or consent.) These accommodations include the permission to eat in class during my low-glycemic episodes and to go to the bathroom whenever I need to manage my diabetes such as change my pump or CGM.
Oftentimes, diabetic students are allowed to start and stop tests during glycemic episodes; however, this isn’t entirely feasible during a lot of tests I take. In high school the teacher is often in the room during my tests. At Palm Beach State, I take many tests online and it’s not as if Canvas (the online platform) has a start/stop button on its tests! Instead, Palm Beach State College often opts to give me double time, so I have time to manage my diabetes if I’m high or low during a test. By refraining from eating carbs and exercising for up to two hours before a test, I try to keep my levels steady and make sure I don’t need to use this extra time. For the most part, I’ve been able to take my tests just like any other student would and not run into major problems!
These are the main accommodations I have, though there’s one other accommodation I request that are important in the case of emergencies: In the event I miss school for a diabetes-related reason (i.e. going into diabetic ketoacidosis), I’m able to make up work without being penalized. Thankfully, such an emergency this has never happened. However, being proactive can help save your academic record and prevent the loss of a semester if an emergency does occur. After all, diabetes can be unpredictable and can throw some curves!
After I work out the details of my accommodations, I try to have a conversation with each of my professors about how diabetes impacts me, and how it may inadvertently impact the classroom. And it does impact the classroom. The alarms can be loud and annoying, and other students might not find it fair when I’m allowed to eat and they’re not. As such, I work with my professors to find ways to mitigate these annoyances, so class can be a little less stressful for me and my professors. It also helps that I always carry smarties to treat lows, and I’m able to discreetly bolus using my insulin pump to treat highs, meaning I have easy and quiet ways of managing my diabetes that I can do without significantly disrupting the classroom.
On the topic of disruptions, one of the neat perks about being a duel enrollment student is that I live at home, so I don’t need to worry about disrupting my roommates (besides my dogs) whenever I have any diabetic alarms. However, this scenario isn’t the case for a lot of college students. If you have or are going to have a roommate in this coming school year, I highly encourage you to sit down with them and cover the basics of diabetes, the purpose of the alarms, and the urgency behind hearing them. Communication can ameliorate some confusion or annoyance your roommate might have, preventing them from randomly waking up in the middle of the night for no clear reason.
That’s all I have for today! While diabetes in college can be daunting (for a multitude of reasons), that doesn’t mean it has to be impossible. Accommodations for your diabetes are essential to success, and it all starts with awareness and communication. Don’t feel afraid to tell your administration, your teachers, your roommates about your diabetes. I hope everybody going to school this fall gets their accommodations early and enjoys their college experience.
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