Children with Chronic Pain: Going to School

  • Summertime is winding down, which means that it is time for the children to go back to school. Hooray! As the parents rejoice and the children frown, some may be wondering how to face the upcoming school year when a child has chronic pain. Yes, some children live with pain. Conditions like Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis, Phantom Pain, Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, and Migraine Headaches can all afflict the young. That is not even mentioning the painful conditions that occur due to accidents, like burns, amputations, and joint injuries. Oh yes, children can have chronic pain too.


    A successful school year with a painful condition requires some good planning and coordination to deal with issues like pain, mobility, and physical health. The parents, the doctor, the child and the school officials need to talk about all these issues as a team.

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    The biggest elephant in the room is the pain. Imagine trying to get through sixth period English class with a "red-hot poker" pain screaming down the leg. It must be hard to concentrate on Shakespeare or Emerson when your whole leg is on fire, your head is pounding or a "knife" is stabbing one of your joints. Controlling the pain is crucial for success in school; thus, a child may need access to pain medications while on campus.


    Setting up a plan for medication usage is essential. Maybe the school nurse or counselor can keep medications safe in an office? Maybe a long-acting medication that works throughout the school day has the best chance at improving pain control? Every situation is different and requires a unique plan. Everyone needs to be aware of the plan. This way no one gets in trouble or poses a safety hazard. With adequate pain control, memory, concentration and all critical thinking skills improve.


    The next issue about a child's chronic pain that needs to be discussed is mobility. Some school campuses are very challenging with multiple stairs and long distances between classes. The solution to these problems can be as simple as arranging a schedule in such a way that distances are minimized. The solution can also be as complex as arranging for wheelchairs and aides to help get a child get from point A to point B. No matter what arrangements are made, the team must remember that the child's sense of independence and well-being is at stake when it comes to mobility issues.


    Speaking of well-being, physical health and physical education are still on the curriculum. Most schools are required to provide a physical education (P.E.) class to students, for those who are unable to participate in regular P.E. classes, adaptive classes should be available to everyone no matter how disabled. Providing adaptive physical education is a "federally mandated component of special education services [U.S.C.A. 1402 (25)]." Some schools may even offer health classes to all students. Learning how to eat properly, learning the effects of smoking, learning about the basic body functions are critical for a child, especially a child with chronic pain. Remember, the human body does not come with an "owner's manual". Health and physical education classes need to be part of a child's education.


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    Education is an important priority in any child's life, yet pain can be a huge barrier. With a good dialogue about the issues that a child in pain will encounter, solutions for success can be found. The pain can be controlled. Accessibility to the school campus can be improved. And physical health is just as important as reading, writing and arithmetic. Because this upcoming school year can set the stage for ongoing participation in whatever life has to offer, now is the time for some proper, prior planning before going back to school with pain.


Published On: July 27, 2010