Many children with chronic gastrointestinal (GI) problems head to school each morning facing the challenge of managing their symptoms throughout the school day. Chronic GI conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Crohn’s disease, and celiac disease cause uncomfortable symptoms that can create stress and interfere with your child’s education.
We’ve put together some steps you can take to help your child during this school year and beyond.
How GI disorders impact children during school
GI disorders affect people of all ages, including children and teens. Some GI conditions are present at birth, while others develop later on.
Common symptoms may include:
- Stomach pain
- Stomach cramping
- Excess gas
These symptoms may make it difficult for your child to pay attention at school, require multiple trips to the bathroom, and cause stress and anxiety. When flare-ups are particularly significant your child may want to stay home, because it’s too difficult to manage symptoms during the school day.
Some children may notice a pattern of early morning symptoms that interfere with their routine when getting ready for school. This can also impact their ability to attend morning classes. Children with chronic GI disorders often require medications that they need to take during the school day.
What’s more, stress is a major risk factor for flares-ups. The stress and anxiety of managing chronic GI issues at school may trigger symptoms or make them worse.
Work with school authorities
Talking to teachers, counselors, and coaches is the first step in creating an inclusive school environment for children with GI orders to thrive. Chronic GI disorders are covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This means that your child has a right to reasonable accommodations at school.
Consider what your child needs to function well at school, write it down, and then schedule a meeting with your child’s teachers and authorities at the school. You can request to have your child’s desk moved to a location in the classroom where your child has easy access to the bathroom without disrupting class.
Teachers should also be made aware that your child may need to make multiple trips to the restroom and access to the bathroom should not be denied.
Drinks, including bottles of water, are often prohibited in classrooms. Your child’s teachers should know if your child takes medications and needs access to a water fountain or needs to have a bottle of water in class. These are reasonable accommodations covered under the ADA.
Children with GI disorders deserve the same opportunity to thrive at school, so don’t be afraid to ask for what your child needs, within reason, to function at their best.
Create a trigger-avoidance plan
Avoiding triggers at home and at school plays a key role in minimizing flare-ups. Children with food allergies and intolerances, like kids with celiac disease, are at risk of exposure to foods that can cause symptoms.
There are many ways to create a trigger-avoidance plan for your child to easily refer to at school. A simple route is to create an easily accessible “cheat sheet” with a list of red-flag foods and safe foods that your child can carry with them and refer to any time while at school.
If your child has a cell phone, there are food intolerance mobile apps you can download to your child’s phone, making it easy for your child to check the app to determine whether a food is safe to eat.
A simple laminated cheat-sheet card will suffice for children who don’t have cell phones.
Put together a rescue kit
A rescue kit containing items that help ease and manage symptoms can really save the day when your child is having a flare-up at school. Consider the things that help your child at home, whether it’s anti-nausea medication or wet wipes, and purchase travel-sized version for your child to store in their desk or locker at school. It’s also a good idea to have your child keep a spare set of clothes at school or in their backpack.
Work with the school nurse
The support of your child’s school nurse is key for helping to manage acute flares that may come on during the school day. While older children and teens can often manage on their own, younger children will need support. Discuss your child’s condition and symptoms with the school nurse and work with the school to put a plan of care in place to implement when your child experiences symptoms at school.
Meeting the educational needs of children with GI disorders is a top priority. If your child has chronic GI issues, reach out to our providers here at the Center for Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition. Call our team at 708-251-4931 to schedule a consultation or request an appointment online. We have offices throughout the Greater Chicago area in Evergreen Park, Naperville, Elmhurst, Joliet, Munster, Bourbonnais, and Hazel Crest, Illinois.