School and the Kid with Crohn’s
For kids and teenagers, school is a long day. Studying, socializing, sports and gym: they require constant physical and mental energy. Plus there are the stresses of adolescence to contend with: changing bodies, changing peers, and loads of emotional rollercoasters throughout the day.
For a kid with Crohn’s, the day becomes even longer and fraught with more peril. Besides cramming for tests for trying to pay attention in class, frequent trips to the bathroom and absences mean much can be missed. Besides worrying about and navigating intricate social interactions, there is the anxiety and embarrassment of having a “gross” chronic illness. And besides the pressure of succeeding in sports or other physical activities, kids with Crohn’s must worry if they can make it through the game without accidents or pain.
Kids with Crohn’s share some similar concerns when it comes to school, and many can be helped with a few useful tips.
The Bathroom Thing
Kids have to use the bathroom. Kids with Crohn’s have to use the bathroom – A LOT. Many people with Crohn’s have diarrhea over 20 times a day. So asking permission of teachers every time can be tiring, embarrassing and frustrating.
Instead, kids and their parents should plan on discussing Crohn’s with the teacher or teachers. Kids with Crohn’s should be granted leave to use the restroom whenever needed. Doors to restrooms should always be unlocked, and stall doors present. If not, teachers may arrange access to a private restroom. Finally, it may be a great strategy to ask for a desk near the door – students can easily slip out without causing themselves discomfort or disrupting class.
Students with Crohn’s will need to take medications throughout the day, and occasionally other items like nutritional supplements. Doing this in front of others at lunch time or during class can attract unwanted attention. If kids need to visit the nurse’s office to take their meds, it may be yet another inconvenient trip out of the classroom.
These factors may encourage kids with Crohn’s to skip the hassle, which can be devastating to their condition. To ease the process of taking medications during school, kids and parents should discuss the process with the school nurse and/or principal. Obtaining a doctor’s letter explaining the drugs, dosages, side effects and other pertinent information can be extremely helpful in describing the individual situation.
Most schools have a policy regarding medications that are meant to help rather than hinder students. Adjustments can always be discussed, including setting up a system that prevents tardiness or too much attention.
Concentration and Fatigue
Chronic illnesses such as Crohn’s can run a body down. Kids may occasionally feel excessively tired, or can’t concentrate because of pain. These can be a significant problem with schoolwork.
Again, talking to teachers and nurses and establishing a plan can avoid stress on top of fatigue or pain. Kids may need access to the nurse’s office to rest. They may need to be excused from gym, either indefinitely or on a day-to-day basis. They may need some help carrying books to class, or duplicates of textbooks to keep at home to avoid carrying.
Finally, kids with Crohn’s should have the option to leave school if and when needed, without interrogation.
Whether it’s a couple hours for doctors’ appointments, or days, weeks or months due to complications or surgery, absences can hurt school performance.
Planning ahead can prevent falling behind. A good plan should determine how kids will get assignments and notes, when and how exams will be made-up, and amount of time needed to complete school projects.
It is also helpful to be realistic when it comes to extracurricular activities. Joining clubs and sports can be a return to normalcy, but lots of absences may let other members down. Students should take on only what they can handle.
Teachers who don’t know about a chronic illness or don’t understand it can be the root of many problems. They may be suspicious of frequent bathroom trips, be angry or frustrated at absences, and may feel out of control of their classroom.
So communication is again the key. Oral and written communication can clear the air on what Crohn’s is and how it affects children. And with this understanding, teachers may be able to provide the following:
• Extra tutoring or individual instruction if kids fall behind
• Tape-recording lectures or enlisting a peer to share notes when kids can’t keep up
• Rearranging the seating to allow easy access to the bathroom, and to the teacher
The most important thing to remember is that children with Crohn’s have options, and most problems can be solved with open communication with the school. And they have the law’s support. Kids with Crohn’s may be eligible to set up an Individualized Educational Plan (IEP), which can include extra educational support. Also, a 504 Plan legally sets out a program of support and services – with stipulations on what is allowed, absences and school response, access to nurse’s office, etc.
Sources for this article include:
Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America: www.ccfa.org
UC and Crohn’s: http://www.ucandcrohns.org/index.html
Medicine Net: http://www.medicinenet.com/crohns_disease/article.htm