Migraine can have a detrimental impact on a child’s life. This is particularly true when it comes to school. After all, migraine is more than just the odd ache you feel in your head every now and then. It is much more complex and unpredictable, with each migraine attack causing a range of symptoms. Many of these symptoms have both short and long-term effects on day-to-day life. It is possible to manage these symptoms, but this doesn’t make migraine go away. This means it can really disrupt school.
Children and adolescents who suffer from migraine therefore not only have to contend with the condition, but also with school. Indeed, school makes up such an important part of growing up. But the impact of migraine and migraine attacks on school can be huge. At times, migraine can be a disabling condition. This means that lessons may be interrupted, learning may be disrupted, and valuable experiences with friends may be missed out altogether.
However, this doesn’t have to be the case. By recognising the impacts of migraine on school, and by learning about ways to manage these impacts, we can make sure children with migraine benefit from a fulfilling, rewarding, and enjoyable time in the classroom.
What kind of impacts does migraine have on school?
Children with migraine are often unable to enjoy an uninterrupted school experience. The main impact of migraine on school is, therefore, attendance. This may be because children have to miss time out of lessons to manage their symptoms or to attend doctors appointments. During a migraine attack, the child may have to miss school completely for several days at a time. This is because it is usually best to deal with the severe pain and nausea (to name just a few of the symptoms) that come along with a migraine attack in the comfort of home.
Poor school attendance has knock-on effects. These knock-on effects largely centre on school performance. This is because children with migraine miss out on learning and so may not reach their potential or do as well in tests. This is compounded by the fact that tests and similar stressful situations can even trigger migraine attacks.
Ways to manage these impacts:
- See a specialist: With the correct diagnosis and professional support, managing migraine and school becomes just that bit easier. A specialist may prescribe medication and therapeutic techniques to help your child manage their stress and pain – all things that help attending school more comfortable.
- Incorporate management techniques into a daily schedule: These techniques may include encouraging your child to keep a headache diary, maintaining a regular and healthy diet, and making sure your child gets enough exercise.
- Create an acute pain plan: Write down a step-by-step guide with your child (and eventually their teacher) about what to do when your child experiences an attack. Steps could include “Tell your teacher how you are feeling.” “Speak to a friend or somebody you trust if you are anxious.” “Take 10 deep breaths.”
- Prepare a migraine toolkit: There are lots of tools that can provide some relief such as a cool pack, a protein-packed snack, a breathing guide/audio. Collect whatever works best for your child in a small bag (which you could sew or decorate together with your child) and keep it in their school bag.
- Communicate with the school: Work with teachers and a specialist to design a management plan. Ensure staff know the details of the condition and any medication requirements (or limits) and agree with them to schedule regular breaks from lessons in a quiet, secluded place. By communicating together, progress can be made to help your child overcome any migraine-related worries and fears, with the end goal being consistent school attendance by working at living and learning with the condition.
- Healthcare plans: In some cases, setting up a healthcare plan could further support your situation. An Individual Healthcare Plan (UK) or 504 Plan (US) can help to accommodate excused absence or preferential seating.
Continue learning about migraine at school: Parent Online Course
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The Migraine Trust on Help in School
MHNI on Managing Headaches and School
Individual Healthcare Plan Template Migraine Trust (UK)