Going to school is the single most important responsibility of every child and teenager. Up to 60 percent of a child’s waking hours may be spent at school or in school-related activities, so it is important that these activities be as positive and enriching as possible.
For a child with a rheumatic disease like arthritis, getting the most out of school activities can be a challenge. Many times special adjustments need to be made, and when all members of the team (child, parents, healthcare team, school staff) work together, it can make school a positive experience.
The key to making things work at school is good communication between the school staff and the family. Most schools are willing to make necessary changes as long as they are given information. It is very helpful to meet with the teacher (or principal, school nurse, physical education teacher) after your child is diagnosed with a rheumatic disease to discuss your child’s health and special needs. It also may be helpful for someone from your child’s healthcare team to call or meet with the school staff (parents must give written permission).
To know about any possible problems your child might have at school (walking up stairs, holding a pencil, carrying heavy books, missing school for doctor appointments, flare-ups)
You, your child, her teacher and other school staff are a team. A key to the team’s success is good communication. Talk with school staff before classes begin each fall. Make sure they understand the unique challenges your child faces and provide ideas on how they can adapt the school setting to help your child succeed. If the school has a nurse, make sure he or she is familiar with the details of your child’s condition, potential complications and any medication that must be given during the day.
The Arthritis Foundation pamphlet, When Your Student Has Arthritis, can provide helpful information for teachers and schools.
One of the best ways to identify possible problem areas is to walk through your child’s daily school schedule. Follow his school routine by checking classroom setup, desk location and arrangement, bathrooms, the cafeteria, library, gym and playground.
The first step in meeting your child’s needs is to identify potential problems your child might have at school. Most children with rheumatic diseases have only a few areas of concern. Review the table for these common issues and suggestions for how to solve them.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) mandates that any federally funded school must make necessary adjustments to allow your child to fully benefit from his or her education.
If your child’s needs are complex, the law may require you and the school to develop an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) and / or a 504 Plan. These plans outline any adaptations or exceptions that the school needs to make to accommodate your child. If your child’s needs are straightforward, you may be able to submit a detailed letter to the school in place of these plans. Talk to your child’s physician about the best option for your child.
Your child’s illness may leave her unable to attend school for periods of time. You, your child’s teachers and your child’s medical team should regularly discuss the amount of work your child can handle during times of disease flares. Each student has unique challenges. This list can serve as a guideline for assigning homework when your child cannot attend classes:
Educators and parents can sometimes find it difficult to discipline a child with arthritis. It’s natural to feel conflicted or guilty, but effective discipline brings a sense of normalcy into your child’s life by setting rules and having expectations.
Communication with your child’s teachers is key to effective discipline. Make sure they understand your child’s physical limitations, and work together with them to set standards for appropriate behavior for your child. These factors may affect discipline plans and should be considered when talking with teachers:
The Division of Rheumatology at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center provides resources about school for families of children with rheumatic disease.