Going Back To School With RA

This is the first time in 25 years, and the first time since I’ve been sick that I will not be going back to school in September.  Elementary, middle, and high school, and two master’s degrees and a PhD later, I think I’ve paid my dues to the Education Gods.

But as someone who knows what it’s like to go to school while dealing with RA, what can be an exciting time for otherwise healthy students, can be a very stressful time for students dealing with RA.

If you have a child who is younger than college age, do you have an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for your child?  If your child will be missing a lot of class time due to their RA, medical appointments, and other medical-related activities, or they need specific mobility aids while in school, you may want to discuss an IEP with your child’s school.  This can also be helpful when they do transition to college to be able to enter school knowing what accommodations they had previously.

If you are of college age, are you registered with the disability office at your school?  While many students with RA do not consider themselves to be disabled, the disability office is really the only place you can go for help and support.  And you want to make sure you get that support early.  Don’t wait until it’s the end of the term when you have exams, and can’t go to the exams because you are having a flare.  Professors are less likely to be helpful when you ask for help in the 25th hour, and haven’t mentioned anything previously.  While you can register with the disability office, you may also want to** talk to your professors** on an individual basis.  Even if your health isn’t an issue at the moment, you may want to let your professors know that you might have difficulty at some point during the term as a result of pain, fatigue, or any other issues you may have.

Another thing to keep in mind is your schedule.  I know that for me, I start to go downhill after four o’clock, so for me, day classes were most convenient.  Unfortunately, in graduate school, it is common to have night classes, and while I checked to see if the classes could be changed, I usually had to grin and bear it.  However, if you do have the choice, you may want to schedule your classes during your peak operating time, and arrange your schedule in a way that works for you.  Do you nap in the afternoon?  Do you need a break between classes for that?  Is it easier for you to have two or three full days of classes and then a few rest days, or would you prefer class every day for just a few hours?

Some other things to think about are whether you are able to carry a traditional backpack, or if you need something on wheels?  Are there specific pens and pencils that are easier on your joints?  You’ll want to make sure you have a stock of them. Do you need voice software to dictate papers and homework assignments?  Sometimes the disability office can provide this for you if it is deemed to be one of your accommodations.

I know that this sounds like a lot and can be overwhelming, but the earlier you jump on these things, the easier it will make your life. Because chronically ill students are more likely to take longer to finish college or not finish at all, it’s important to be your own advocate to make sure you get what you need in order to be successful in your educational pursuits.