It's that time of year again. That time when it's still summer, but time for school to start is sneaking up on us. Parents know that time all too well. There are school clothes and supplies to be purchased, class and bus schedules to review, and seemingly countless other details to deal with.
When your child has a chronic illness, whether it's headaches, Migraines, or a different illness entirely, we really can't afford to put off getting our children ready for school. There are extra steps that need to be taken; extra preparations that need to be made. In the Miss America scholarship pageant program, they have a motto. They call it "the Ps..."
Prior Preparation Prevents Poor Performance.
School rules have made it more complicated for chronically ill children and their parents. Many schools have a "zero tolerance" policy about medications, including simple over-the-counter medications. Some of these policies are so inflexible that students have been expelled for having Advil with them at school. Some schools also have very strict attendance policies that complicate matters for students with a chronic illness.
Let's take a look at some of the prior preparations that need to be done before school starts and some tools to help you and your child ...
Check on the school's policies before calling or taking your child to the doctor so you'll be able to address all your needs with one call or visit. Do yourself the favor of making a list of what to ask when you call the school and notes of the information you get.
Check to see if your child needs a letter regarding their illness or any medical records, including immunization records, to take to school.
Check with your child's school regarding their attendance policy...
- What and how many absences are excused with a note from parents?
- What necessitates a note from the child's doctor?
- When a child has a chronic illness, is the absence policy different if there's a letter on file from the doctor?
- Is there a maximum number of days beyond which absence from school results in failing grades or problems moving on to the next grade level?
Check with your child's school regarding their policies about children taking medications at school...
- Are children allowed to keep OTC medications with them? Prescription medications?
- If they must leave their medications with a school nurse or someone else...
- who is this person and what are their qualifications to dispense medications? - who is the backup person if the person usually in charge of helping ill students is unavailable? - where are the medications stored? - what are the labeling and other requirements for you to send medications to school? - if your child needs their medication, how long will it take for them to get it?
- Is your child required to take a physical education class? Will this impact their illness? If so, what arrangements need to be made?
- If you child rides a bus to school, do you know the route and whether riding the bus or waiting at the bus stop will affect your child's health?
- Do you need forms to fill out to give your child's teacher, school nurse, or school administrator information about their Migraines and what to do if your child gets one at school? If so, you can download them free at the end of our article Why Children with Migraine Often Need Special Care. In fact, you might want to print that article and take it to school.
Once you've gotten all the information you need from your child's school, make a list of questions to ask, prescriptions to request, and information to get from their doctor.
- Do you need immunization or other records from the doctor?
- Do you need a letter about your child's illness and treatment plan?
- If physical education class is a problem, do you need a letter or recommendations from the doctor?
- If your child is young and outdoors recess is a problem, do you need a letter from the doctor?
- If you have to send medication to school in its original prescription bottle, do you need an extra prescription for it?
- Speaking of medications, did you know that Axert is approved for adolescents ages 12 - 17? If you have a child that age with Migraines who hasn't used an abortive medication before, now is a good time to discuss it with the doctor. (See Axert FDA Approved for Adolescents.)
- Does your doctor have recommendations for handling your child's illness at school?
- Will your child be coming home after school, or going to an after-school program or babysitter? If they're going to a program or babysitter, be sure that whomever will be caring for your child has all the information and medications your child may need.
- If your child is old enough that they will be staying at home alone before you get home from work, be sure they understand what they need to do after school and how and when to call for help.
- Always arrange a backup for your after school set up.
Back to school
- Decide if all issues can be handled via telephone, letters and forms, or if you need to meet with your child's teachers and/or school officials.
- Children with chronic illnesses should usually wear some kind of medical identification. Be sure your child has it, wears it, and that it's up to date.
- If you're sending notes or letters to the school, and they're going to an administrative office, you may want to make copies for your child's teachers.
- Be sure your child knows who has their medications and what to do when they need them at school.
- If you need to fill prescriptions or get an extra supply of OTC meds to take to school, now is the time. If you plan to take meds you already have at home, check to be sure they're not past their expiration dates.
- Talk to your child to be sure they understand any testing and treatment they may need at school and when they should ask that someone from the school call you.
- Talk to your child and be sure they know that they should never accept medication from another student. This is also as good a time as any to talk with them about illicit drugs that my be around the school and alcohol.
- Be sure to give your child plenty of opportunities to ask you questions or express their concerns or fears. The stress of worrying or being afraid can exacerbate their illness, and you'll feel better knowing that they feel safe and secure.
A child's school years can and should be some of their best. They're learning academically and socially, and developing so quickly that we wonder where the time has gone. Prior preparation can indeed prevent poor performance in the case of caring for your child's illness. Don't stress you or your child by putting it off.
Medical review by John Claude Krusz, PhD, MD