The Professor’s Guide to Type 1 Diabetes


Editor’s Note: This content is a part of Beyond Type 1’s guidebook, which includes guides for everyone who has a type 1 in their life. Check out the rest of our customized guides for the different people in your life here!

For more information on managing type 1 diabetes in college, sign up for Beyond Type 1: College Edition, our email series on all things college + type 1 diabetes (T1D).

For students—

It’s that exciting time of the year—back to school! Whether you’re heading into college as a freshman, or returning for another year at your university, you are heading into a time where you need to be independent and assertive about your health. Unlike elementary and secondary schools, colleges have no responsibility to identify disabilities. Therefore, it is the student’s job to let his or her school know about a type 1 diabetes diagnosis in order to find out what accommodations are available. This is your choice in the end though. (Read about one US student’s opinion on applying for disability.)

Whether or not you apply for disability, you should let your professors know about your type 1 and what to expect through the year. Here are some essential tips to get your professors up to speed on type 1 diabetes.


Professor’s Guide to Type 1 Diabetes—

What is Type 1 diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that occurs when a person’s own immune system destroys the insulin-producing cells in their pancreas. People with type 1 are insulin-dependent for life, and must manually give themselves insulin through multiple daily injections or an insulin pump. They must carefully balance insulin, food, exercise and other factors in order to prevent or minimize serious short and long-term complications due to out-of-range blood sugar levels.

If you have not heard much about type 1, here are some other fast facts—

  • T1D is not caused by a lack of exercise or eating too much sugar.
  • T1D is not contagious.
  • There is no cure for T1D at the present moment.
  • Although T1D has also been called “juvenile diabetes,” T1D affects both children and adults.

Know about the necessary T1D items & what they do!

Your student will most likely always have a few items within his or her reach to manage his or her type 1 diabetes. These can include:

  • insulin – a hormone that unlocks cells to receive the glucose from food
  • glucagon – a hormone injection to quickly elevate low blood sugar
  • blood glucose meter – a device that (manually) measures blood glucose levels with a drop of blood on a test strip
  • fast-acting sugar to treat a low – a food or drink high in carbohydrates
  • syringes, insulin pens or supplies for an insulin pump
  • continuous glucose monitor (CGM) – a device that continually tracks blood glucose levels (every five minutes).
  • insulin pump – a device that delivers insulin via chord or directly through device which is secured to student

Insulin may be delivered manually, via syringe or pen. If delivered by pump, the insulin may be given wirelessly through a clear tube or directly at pump site via iPhone or by device transmitter. These injection sites are typically at the arms, stomach, legs, or buttock.

Small transmitters may be easily to be confused with a pager. It is paired with a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) that tracks blood glucose levels, or pump, which is used to deliver insulin. Some student’s transmitters can also be their iPhones, which could cause confusion if you see a student constantly on his or her phone. Be sure to talk ahead with your student about limiting phone usage to diabetes-related tasks only.

Keeping blood sugar levels in range

If his or her blood sugar is high, you might see a student give himself or herself an injection, via needle, pen, or pump. If his or her blood sugar is low, the student will need to drink a juice box and/or have a light snack. A low blood sugar needs to be treated immediately with carbohydrates.

Anything and everything affects blood glucose levels

Stress, exercise, weather, and illness are just a handful of things that can impact blood sugar levels. Any college student experiences stress, but stress for someone with type 1 diabetes can put them at risk for hypoglycemia or hyperglycemia.

The swing of highs and lows for your student is exhausting, both mentally and physically. A student is unable to be as focused and alert when they are “too high” or “too low.” Therefore, it is important to understand the need for a student to retake an exam or miss class in one of these circumstances.

Be aware of accommodations

Type 1 diabetes qualifies as a disability in most countries, therefore many students apply for Disability Services if they are available at their school. If they have organized this arrangement, you may notice that students can request to re-take tests when their blood sugars or out of range, miss classes for endocrinology appointments, or take “sick days” regardless of class rules. Be sure to discuss these accommodations with your student to prepare for these situations and always have a game plan. You will have a better piece of mind when you figure out how your student individually manages his or her type 1 diabetes.

Your role in your student’s health

As a young adult in college, your student is mature enough to take care of his or her type 1. You do not need to monitor the student, unless you see signs of a serious emergency. Here is what to look out for:

High (hyperglycemia) symptoms: nausea, deep sighing breaths, confusion, flushed and warm skin, drowsiness

Low (hypoglycemia) symptoms: shaky, pale and sweaty skin, headache, hunger, weakness, trembling

If your student is exhibiting these symptoms, or is unconscious, immediately seek emergency help.

An emergency situation should be a rare incident, but knowing what to look for can save a student’s life. If you don’t understand a treatment or management preference, don’t hesitate to ask questions (of course!) of the student.

Understanding type 1 diabetes and its treatment as well as establishing management expectations in the classroom will help prevent misunderstandings and further facilitate an environment of mutual respect and safety.

See the rest of our customized guides here.

WRITTEN BY BT1 Editorial Team, POSTED 09/06/17, UPDATED 12/29/22

This piece was authored collaboratively by the Beyond Type 1 Editorial Team.