Children’s school performance is not impaired by type 1 diabetes

Primary school aged children with type 1 diabetes have educational outcomes similar to their peers without diabetes, according to a South Australian study that was reported in  a recent edition of The Limbic.

The findings should alleviate concerns about blood glucose variability, impaired cognitive function and diabetes-related school absences having an adverse effect on academic ability, according to researchers at Adelaide University.

Their comparison of year 5 NAPLAN scores for numeracy and literacy in 61,445 children, including a subset of 162 children with type 1 diabetes, found negligible differences between those with and without diabetes.

Negligible deviation

The study found differences in mean reading, writing and numeracy scores of the children with and without type 1 were around one tenth of a standard deviation – equivalent to less than one mark in the raw NAPLAN assessment.

It also found there were negligible differences in the mean reading, writing, spelling, grammar and numeracy scores according to time since their type 1 diabetes diagnosis.

The findings were consistent with recent schools based performance studies from Western Australia and Denmark, but contrasted with other studies, including older studies, which used cognitive measures and IQ scores.

The study authors said it was thought type 1 diabetes could potentially affect a child’s memory and concentration due to the challenges of managing blood glucose, even without overt hyper- and hypoglycaemia.

Improvements in type 1 management

Type 1 could also have longer term effects on brain volumes and altered neural pathways, and they noted, that some children with type 1 diabetes have shown lower executive functioning including planning, working–memory, processing, attention, problem solving capacity, and visual motor integration.

“Improvements in type 1 diabetes management, diabetes education programs for school staff, and perhaps increasing use of insulin pumps due to government subsidy in recent years may have helped children in achieving better glycaemic control,” the researchers said.

They also noted that the legal obligation for schools to make reasonable adjustments to encourage participation of children with diabetes may help them reach their potential and achieve similar educational outcomes as children without type 1 diabetes.

The authors noted the study included only children attending public schools but that educational attainment was usually similar in both public and private schools after adjusting for socioeconomic status.

“This whole-of-population study demonstrated that South Australian children with type 1 diabetes are not disadvantaged on educational outcomes in year 5 compared to children without diabetes,” they concluded.

“This supports the idea that the negative effects of type 1 diabetes on educational outcomes may have equalised, possibly through improved T1D management in children.”

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