Ryan Elizabeth Explains T1D to her 4th Grade Class

By Susan Quintanilla, T1D Mom

My daughter, Ryan Elizabeth, has had her insulin pump and CGM monitor for almost 7 months. Like many other kids with T1D, she goes to school sporting some pretty handy gear.

Ryan spent a lot of her first two weeks of 4th grade in the office trying to manage her high blood sugars, and her insulin pump alarm was regularly sounding off during the class day.

Ryan’s initial class includes 25 students and one teacher, but this teacher regularly joins forces with two other teachers who also have 20-25 students in their classes. That meant that about 75 students and three teachers were hearing her CGM alarms and seeing her leave the classroom and return, day after day.

With all this activity, Ryan was often asked questions like, “What’s that on your arm? What’s that sound? Where did you go?” She had to answer these questions several times each day.

Ryan doesn’t mind anyone knowing about her T1D. She isn’t shy about her diabetes, but she is human. It became very annoying for her to be asked questions throughout the day about her diabetes.

One afternoon, I came to pick Ryan up from school because her blood sugar was very high. She was feeling gross and very disgusted with diabetes in general. She was quiet on our drive home. But then she began to tell me about how everyone constantly asked about “this thing” on her arm. I could tell that she was really annoyed.

She said that she didn’t mind people knowing, but constantly having to answer questions from different people was frustrating. I suggested that we ask her teacher to tell the students about Ryan’s diabetes, but Ryan said that she’d like to do it.

Ryan wanted to explain her T1D to all three classes and teachers at once. She wanted to have everyone’s attention so she could explain her CGM and her insulin pump, and why it sometimes beeps. She wanted to give them time for questions at the end so everyone could hear the answers.

That night, I called her teacher and explained the situation. She was more than happy to give Ryan the time she needed to explain her T1D. When Ryan returned to school, her class gathered along with the other two teachers and their classes to listen to Ryan explain T1D.

“Hi. For those that don’t know me, I’m Ryan and I have type 1 diabetes. This ‘thing’ on my arm is my CGM (continuous glucose monitor) and it reads my blood sugar. It tells me when my blood sugar goes high or when it goes low. It beeps from my insulin pump. When it beeps, I have to do something about it to keep me from feeling sick or passing out.”

Ryan took out her insulin pump to show the class. “This is my pump. It is attached to my body. I tell the pump to give me insulin whenever I eat food or when I get high. Does anyone have any questions?”

Some kids admitted they were wondering what those things were. Others asked about how the insulin tube attaches to her skin, and a teacher told them it was through a needle in her body. Some other students mentioned that their grandma or grandpa has diabetes, and Ryan told them that her diabetes was a different kind than theirs.

It went very well and the kids were all engaged in learning about what they had heard and seen in Ryan’s behavior. After her speech, kids have felt more comfortable approaching her on the playground, and they help her answer when other kids ask her about her equipment.

Ryan knows this won’t end all the questions; she understands that this is a life long-battle. But she also knows that most kids are just curious, and a bit of education can go a long way.