Back to School Days with Special Medical Needs: Start the School Year on Track with a Parent-Teacher Meeting

 
It's that time of year again- back to school. And with it comes an air of excitement, anticipation and, for parents, some stress and worry. "Will my child like his or her teachers?" "Will he or she get along with the other kids?" "Will my child do well this year?" And, for those of us with special medical needs, "How will I ensure that my child's needs are taken care of?"
 
Of course, as loving parents, we want everything to go "just right". But, as we all know, the reality is that things don't always work out the way we'd like. Kids get teased and left out, teachers aren't perfect, children don't always go to the head of the class, medications get forgotten, and there are plenty of things that can get in the way of "the perfect school year." And of course, there's always head lice to keep us on our toes. (Ewww!)
 
The good news is that each of these "experiences" can provide our child, and us, with a new opportunity to learn and grow. And, with a bit of thoughtful planning, we can increase the odds that the year will go well and our child's special needs will be met.
 
Let's start with effective communication. This is the most important thing you can do to help your child get started on the right track. This includes communicating with the teachers, school staff and administration, your child and your child's peers. This first blog will deal with communicating with your child's teachers.
 
About a week or two before school starts, request a meeting with your child's teacher(s). The subject matter of this meeting should be to discuss and document your child’s medical requirements and the process for getting those needs met at school. You’ll also want to be prepared to educate about the basics of your child's medical condition.
 
Depending on your child’s needs, this initial conversation might result in starting the process of creating an IEP or 504 Plan (which we’ll discuss in next week’s blog) especially if this is your child’s first year at this school. This conversation should take place every year with your new teacher even if you have an IEP or 504 Plan in place.
 
Be aware that if your child needs to take any medication at school including over-the-counter drugs, a medical authorization form for each medication needs to be signed by your doctor and turned in by the first day of school. Be sure to check on your school’s medication policies as far as labeling, location, and how the meds will be given to your child (by the teacher? Nurse? Office staff?).
 
Providing information in writing is essential. Even if you are unable to schedule a face-to-face meeting, make sure that you provide written documentation about your child's needs well before school starts. Teachers and staff are very busy during the first two weeks of school. They are less likely to pay close attention to anything you hand them when they have thirty kids running around the classroom on the first day of school.
 
I provide two basic documents to my kids' teachers a week before school. One is a letter that explains how the diagnosis of cystic fibrosis affects my children and what their needs are. Most illnesses have a wide range of symptoms and medical requirements and it helps the teacher to know what the particulars are for my child. The "teacher letter" is written in a way that helps the teacher understand each need plus it creates a partnership between me, the teacher and my child.
 
The other document I provide is a general pamphlet about my child's medical condition. Most medical conditions have something like this through a non-profit organization that supports the illness. If a pamphlet is not available, use a printed explanation from a trusted source like the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The point is to give the teacher, staff, and school nurse some basic information about your child's medical condition. You can view samples of the documents I use at the following link. Feel free to copy and modify as you see fit. http://www.happyheartfamilies.com/SchoolIssues.html
 
Many schools require a more formalized document called an Individualized Health Care Plan (IHCP or IHP). Your child's IHCP should include things like the medical services your child should receive at school including medication, when, where, how the services will be provided and by whom, and an emergency response plan that details possible emergencies and what to do. The IHCP should be shared with your teachers, kept in your child's school record, and attached to an IEP or 504 Plan if there is one in place (more on that next week). Schools often have their own version of an IHCP that can be filled out so be sure to ask. If not, samples of health care plans can be found online including ones written for specific medical conditions like diabetes, asthma, allergies, etc.
 
So, that's the first step to having a good school year- making sure that your child's school administrators and teachers are fully aware of your child's medical condition, the individual aspects of it that affect your child, and what your child will need at school.
 
It's also a good idea to provide this information to all staff who will come in contact with your child each day. Don't forget PE teachers, coaches, music teachers, special classes and "yard duties" (as my kids call the people who help on the playground).
 
Open, honest, thoughtful communication done upfront, before problems occur, will help ensure that your child will be understood, properly cared for, and safe throughout the year. 
 
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Lisa C. Greene is the mother of two children with cystic fibrosis, a certified parent coach, parenting educator, and public speaker. She is also the co-author with Foster Cline, MD of the award-winning Love and Logic® book “Parenting Children with Health Issues.”   For more information, visit www.ParentingChildrenWithHealthIssues.com

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