School Accommodations Younger Students with IBD Need to Succeed
It’s that time of year again!
Students are heading back to school all over the world and while most students plan ahead by buying new school supplies or selecting their outfit for the first day of school, students with IBD may need to do more to ensure they have a successful year.
It’s not always easy being a student with a diagnosed disease. I know! I was in-and-out of the hospital every year during elementary school and then again during college. Not only did I have to worry about academic success, but I also faced challenges like bullying and feeling very isolated due to how sick I was. I learned many lessons along the way about getting through school and I wanted to share some of them with you today.
I have divided this post up between younger students and older students since the younger student requires more help from parents or guardians compared to the older student who needs to start advocating for themselves as they grow into adulthood.
Regardless of age all students should have the right to a quality education which is why accommodations in school are important. In a way it levels the playing field.
For the Younger Student.
The young student will need plenty of help from parents and/or loved ones to put accommodations in place. Your child may not be comfortable talking about their Crohn’s or colitis or may not have the communication skills so it is important that you learn to advocate for them. The level of accommodations a child with IBD needs will vary from patient to patient depending on the severity of their illness and their specific case. The following tips are a guideline to ensure a successful school year:
- Educate Yourself: Learn as much as you can about Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis from your child’s gastroenterologist and from accurate resources. The CCFA has a lot of resources available to parents to help you learn more and many IBD centers offer patient education events. Having a good understanding of IBD will help you be able to translate to others what is going on with your child. You cannot advocate successfully if you don’t understand the illness.
- Check In: It is important to occasionally check in with your child to see how they are feeling as they may not always be willing to speak up about it. Don’t make it seem like you are pestering them to talk but it’s important to know if they are experiencing bullying or feeling anxiety or depression.
- The Right Doctor: Make sure your child has a good GI. If you can get them in with an IBD Specialist at an IBD Center that’s even better. Keep regular appointments with the doctor and make sure the doctor is monitoring disease to get your child into remission and keep them there. Controlling inflammation is probably the most important part of all of this because a child in remission will have a much better chance at a successful school year than a child with active disease.
- Build Good Habits: Help your child build good habits by helping them take their medication as directed. Come up with a schedule your child understands so that they get into the habit of taking their medication and understand the importance of why they have to. By the time they get to High School they should be taking their medication on their own without reminders.
- Get a 504 Plan! I cannot stress this enough. A 504 plan is an agreement between teachers, administrators, parents, student, and the child’s doctor about the accommodations the child needs for school. A 504 plan will carry through the child's school career and offers accommodations like stop-the-clock testing in case a child needs to use the bathroom during a timed test, access to school elevators, being able to use the bathroom at any time, access to staff bathrooms, excused absences and tardies, and so on. You can see an example of a 504 plan for a child with IBD here. Communication between parents, teachers, school staff, and the patient is very important to help the student succeed.
- Accidents May Happen: Go over a plan with your child about what happens if they have an accident so they are as prepared as possible. Keeping an extra change of clothes in the school nurse's office and having other supplies on hand will help them get through this as easily as possible.
- Mental Health: Taking care of mental health is a very important part of managing Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. A child growing up with IBD may experience delayed puberty and growth, anxiety, depression, or bullying from other students who tease about weird dietary habits, having accidents, chipmunk cheeks, frequent trips to the bathroom, etc. Communicate with the school counselors and have them periodically check in with your child. It may also help to set them up with a counselor trained in treating pediatric patients with chronic illnesses.
- Advocate! Even if your child has accommodations in place with a 504 plan you may still run into instances where the school does not comply. Be sure to advocate for your child so that he or she gets the accommodations they have a right to. Check in once in awhile with teachers to see how things are going.
- Educate Your Child: Start educating your child on their illness and how to communicate about it. This will help them when they are faced with questions from their peers. Learning to advocate for yourself is a process and the earlier it starts the better!
- Outside Support: Consider sending your child to Camp Oasis or other events geared towards children with IBD. It has more to do with school than you think! Your child will want to know that their are other kids out there like them if they are feeling different or isolated. It also helps knowing they have lots of support out there.
In the second part of this article, I'll focus on older students, especially those in college, and the specific areas to address for optimum success!
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