Children with chronic health conditions – such as asthma, diabetes, epilepsy or mental or behavioral health conditions – need extra attention at school to stay safe and healthy. With the right treatment plan and support, children with these conditions can flourish at school without putting their health at risk.
Prepare for chronic disease management
Dr. Williams says parents should prepare for the school year in advance by making an appointment with their child's pediatrician or specialist who handles care for the chronic condition. At the doctor's office, parents should:
- Address any prescriptions their child needs, including refills of medications that can be left at school
- Go over the written disease management plan. If you don't have a written disease management plan, ask your child's doctor for one.
- Get any other medical supplies the child may need while at school
- Sign a release of information form
Dr. Williams says the release of information is important so school nurses can get the information they need from a child's doctor in an emergency situation or if they cannot reach a parent. The release of information allows all members of your child's care team to work together. Oftentimes, there is a chronic illness form for school that you will be asked to fill out.
Communicate with the school about chronic health conditions
"Once school starts, go in with the mindset of making sure the school knows everything they need to know about your child," says Dr. Williams. "Notify the school as soon as possible about your child's condition."
Dr. Williams says parents should go over the disease management plan with the school. This plan should include:
- Health care provider contact information
- Contact information for parents or guardians
- Description of diagnoses
- A treatment plan for everyday management and emergency situations
- Chronic illness form (if the school requires one)
You should also leave any medications like inhalers, insulin or other medicines your child may need throughout the day at school with specific instructions on how the medicines are used. If possible, speak with the school nurse personally about your child and their health concerns.
Talk to your child about their health at school
Children should have an age-appropriate awareness of their condition as well as know how to use their medicines and treatment. Dr. Williams says parents should empower children to take ownership of their health, helping them understand their condition and treatment to foster independence.
For instance, younger elementary school students should know they have asthma, but may not be able to carry their asthma inhalers because they may not know when they need them. However, teens should be allowed to carry inhalers because they can recognize when they need them and use them safely.
"It can be difficult for parents to do," says Dr. Williams. "You do everything that your child needs, so sometimes it can be hard to pull back and let kids start to take the lead on managing their conditions."
How teachers and school administrators can help
Teachers and school officials play a large role in keeping children with chronic conditions safe. Besides understanding a student's treatment plan, they can also take steps to improve the school environment.
"Creating a supportive learning environment for a student of every ability, those with and without chronic illnesses, is incredibly important," says Dr. Williams. "School officials should identify those children with chronic illnesses early on and have resources and staff available to manage those conditions."
Schools can also harbor a physically safe environment for children by:
- Installing wheelchair ramps
- Ensuring sidewalk, pavement and classroom floors are easy to navigate
- Being aware of, and avoiding, the use of substances that create fumes or strong smells
- Preparing food that is food-allergy safe
- Teaching staff members and students about bullying and inclusion
- Educating staff members to be sensitive to chronic illnesses
- Having a school nurse on campus throughout the day
With strong communication, a clear plan and a great school environment, parents, school administrators and health professionals can help ensure all children thrive, learn and grow at school.
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