Navigating the education system as a student with a chronic condition is tough, from kindergarten all the way to university. Students often need extra help to adjust to a new environment, whether that means meeting with the teachers more often or finding ways to get around the school. Take a cue from three parents to ensure your child’s educational success. Here’s what they recommend.
Take a tour. Colleen Payne’s 12-year-old son, Nate, was born with a developmental disorder, so preparing him for junior high meant taking his physical and behavioral conditions into consideration. “I put more time and thought into what middle school to send him to than I did for where I went to undergraduate and graduate school combined,” says Payne. Together, the family toured four schools - two public and two private to find the perfect fit for Nate. “You can get a good idea of whether a school will work just from taking a tour,” Payne says. “There was one school we always thought he would attend, but after touring it and seeing how big it was, we knew it just wasn’t going to work.” Eventually the Payne family found a school with the right physical and educational accommodations.
Practice, practice, practice. Heather Reyes’ six-year-old daughter Olivia has a genetic condition in addition to attention difficulties and low muscle tone. Simple motor tasks such as using scissors are a challenge. “Her muscle tone, along with her executive-functioning issues, make it hard for her to open things herself and stay on task with eating lunch,” Reyes says. To prepare Olivia for kindergarten, Reyes set a stopwatch for 15 minutes (the time allotted by the school to eat lunch) and had Olivia practice eating within this time frame throughout the summer. “We had her open everything herself and pack it up when she was done,” she says. “Olivia was also not allowed to leave her seat during that time.”
Teach kids to speak for themselves. Jeremy and Tiffany Evans have an eight-year-old daughter, Delaney, with multiple chronic conditions. To manage her conditions properly, the Evans family keeps in close contact with a few people at the school, and they have agreed on action plans in case Delaney’s conditions flare up. “The school is aware of her conditions, and she has doctor notes for emergencies as well as extra medication in the nurse’s office,” Evans says. More important, Evans has taught Delaney about advocating for herself in case the adults miss any red flags. “Delaney knows to report any and all issues to her nurses and teachers, no matter how small,” he says. “Kids should always know their own symptoms and be told to report them, in case their teacher doesn’t catch what’s going on.”