Heading to college is daunting for most people. You may be excited, nervous, anxious and eager all rolled into one. It is a day you have planned for during the past year or two. You are now ready to embark on a new phase in your life and this usually involves spending a lot less time at home, or moving away from home for the first time.
Up until now home has probably more than likely been the natural hub of support for you as you grow towards adulthood. And family, siblings and friends at home will also have been a support for you when you are managing your diabetes.
When planning your route to college you will discover that very few occupations are off limits because you have diabetes. Like anyone else you can choose a job that fits your personal interests and abilities. Currently, in Ireland, if you use insulin to treat your condition you cannot enter the following professions: the Gardai, Fire and Ambulance service, armed forces, train drivers, airline pilots, air traffic controllers and bus drivers.
Moving away from home
With the move away from home comes more responsibilities. The structure of the day will be very different. You will be familiarising yourself with your new lifestyle over the first few weeks. The route to success is planning as much as possible.
Areas to look at may include:
- Timing of lectures
- Timing of meals, snacks and insulin
- Availability of meals and snacks
- Travel to and from college and mode of transport
- Looking after your own diabetes supplies
- Doing your own shopping
- Sports activities
- Leisure activities
- Socialising and alcohol
You may find that you are more active in college than at home with:
- Earlier mornings
- Running to lectures around campus
- Studying for long periods without eating
- Eating smaller meals
- Eating more convenience foods
All the above can keep all new students very busy, particularly if you are managing type 1 diabetes at the same time. This is why it is a good idea to build a support network of old and new friends to help you along the way. On campus health services may be a valuable source of support too.
Get AHEA D
AHEAD (The Association for Higher Access and Disability) provides information about educational supports for students with disabilities, including diabetes. It says that students with any of the mentioned disabilities should check before the beginning of the academic year to find out what supports will be available to them.
It may be that your requirements are minimal such as being allowed to check glucose in the lecture hall or having a snack during an exam. AHEAD also make the point that “students must bear in mind that they will have to negotiate for the supports with the lecturers, tutors, or student support officers in the universities or the access officer in the IT colleges”.
College sources recommend that students with any particular health condition inform them at the start of the year. On a practical level this will ensure that the student knows the location of the health centre, and from a clinical point of view, if there is a medical incident the unit staff will be aware of the student’s medical background. Students will also have access to a disability officer should the need arise.
Time for revision
It would be wise to take some time to revise your diabetes management plans, and observe what is happening with your diabetes over the first few weeks as you settle in. Revise the tips you have learnt regarding managing your diabetes if you are ill. Also take the opportunity to explain to friends and any new roommates what type 1 diabetes is, and what they would be able to do in the event of you having a hypo. Make sure that supplies to treat a hypo are available and that someone knows how to use glucagon, or to get help. You should carry some form of identification.
Activities and socialising
When you get involved in sports activities, take time to adjust your regime until you find what works best for you. You may decide to inform your coach and teammates of your diabetes, explaining the positive effects physical activity has on diabetes management. This means they can support you if you have a hypo. Parties and late nights will be a part of college life. If you drink alcohol, be responsible and take time to discuss with friends the effects of alcohol on your blood sugars.
Your diabetes care follow up
Many teenagers with diabetes transfer to an adult diabetes service around this time. If you have not already moved, it may be a good idea to delay the move for a couple of months, if you can, until you are settled in. You can draw on the support from your adult diabetes team at this time, but you may be more at ease with speaking with the team you know well. At some stage you may decide to access a diabetes service closer to your college so that you can continue to attend your clinic appointments and reviews without traveling home. Otherwise you might be happy to schedule your appointments during college breaks.
According to an attendee at the Diabetes Federation of Ireland teen conference in Croke park Dublin 2009: “Care might become disjointed and young people can feel unsupported at this time” and “I do not feel you should move at this time because when starting college you might have no structure in your life”.
Don’t forget how your family has supported you and they can continue to do so from a distance. Don’t hesitate in keeping them up to date as to how you are coping in your new environment. Most importantly – enjoy your college years.
Jenny Dunbar is Diabetes Federation of Ireland Regional Development Officer in the Mid Leinster Region
AHEA D contact : www.ahead.ie
Sheila O’Kelly, Diabetes Ireland Magazine
Volume 8 , Issue 3, Autumn 2010