How Parents Can Help Children With Migraine Prepare for School
It is hard to believe that summer break is almost over, though if we’re being honest, I’m sure we’re all celebrating a little inside that kids are going back to school. I have lived with chronic migraine for the last decade. More recently, my 8.5-year-old son has been diagnosed with migraine. I was devastated but not surprised since migraine disease often runs in families. If one or both parents have migraine, there is a 50-75% chance the child will inherit it.
As we begin back-to-school shopping and preparing for the upcoming school year, there are some things I hope that parents do not overlook. If your child has migraine disease, they may need resources and accommodations to succeed in school! Here are some tips I hope will help your child (and you!) have a successful year.
Get A Migraine Diagnosis For Your Child
This may seem obvious, but I cannot stress the importance of getting your child diagnosed by a doctor.. If your child experiences frequent headaches or stomach pain, take them to their pediatrician to be evaluated for migraine. Migraine is not just a headache but a neurological disease that must be taken seriously. Early diagnosis and treatment can help your child better manage their migraine disease, improve their quality of life, and may prevent them from developing chronic migraine in the future.
Keep in mind that pediatric migraine may present differently than in adults. For example, children tend to experience pain all over their head instead of just one side, and their attacks tend to be shorter. Make sure to familiarize yourself and your child with the symptoms of pediatric migraine to know what to look for. Additionally, it is recommended to keep a migraine diary to give the doctor an accurate and detailed account of what your child experiences. This will help their doctor make a diagnosis and prepare a treatment plan for your child. Having a diagnosis will help your child feel understood, get the proper migraine treatment, and obtain accommodations to help them thrive at school.
Assemble a Migraine Toolkit
A migraine toolkit includes everything to help your child prevent or treat a migraine attack. Ensure they have an extra snack, water bottle, ear plugs, and light sensitivity or blue light-blocking glasses in their backpacks. Provide the nurse with any medications your child may need and instructions on when and how they should be administered. In addition, a nurse may be able to keep a gel ice pack in the refrigerator for your child to use during a migraine attack.
Request School Accommodations
I have to admit, I was worried about being a nuisance when I learned I could get school accommodations for my child. Then I realized my son needed to see me advocate on his behalf so he would one day have the confidence and strength to advocate for himself in all aspects of life.
School accommodations could make the difference between your child having a good or challenging year. Some examples include:
- Allowing a student to take their medication at the onset of a migraine attack
- Allowing a student to rest in a dimly lit/quiet area during a migraine attack
- Extended time to take tests
- Taking tests in a quiet, dimly lit room
- Modified Physical Education as tolerated
- Access to snacks when needed
You can find additional school accommodations for children with migraine disease here.
There are several ways to get accommodations. A physician’s letter from your child’s pediatrician can provide details of your child’s diagnosis or symptoms, as well as the school accommodations your child needs to successfully get through the day. You can forward a copy of the physician’s letter to the school nurse and follow up in person or by phone. Sometimes this is sufficient to get the accommodations your child needs. If it’s not, or if this stops working at some point, be aware that you and your child are entitled to formal protections.
Section 504 ensures students in public schools have equitable access to a learning environment. Set up an appointment with the appropriate school administrators to discuss Section 504 Accommodations. Bring a copy of the physician’s letter and a list of the accommodations your child needs to the meeting.
An Individualized Education Plan (IEP) is a longer process and requires that you have tried other accommodations that haven’t met your child’s needs. Both a 504 plan and an IEP can include similar school accommodations. Note that your child’s 504 plan may follow them into college, while an IEP cannot.
Get Involved With Migraine at School
Migraine at School is an excellent resource for information on how to help your child with migraine succeed at school. Their website has a collection of helpful resources and information for students, parents, and educators to help kids with migraine. You can even become a Migraine at School Ambassador and share their program with your community to raise awareness about pediatric migraine and help introduce their program to your local schools.
I am a Migraine at School Ambassador, and my kids and I love sharing the program with our schools, doctor’s offices, and the local community. The ambassadors are a fun and growing group dedicated to supporting kids with migraine.
Get Into a Routine
Changes in your child’s daily routine can be a migraine trigger. Now is an excellent time to start getting your child back into a routine to be better prepared for their transition into the school year. As you know, summer is when regular schedules go out the window: staying up later than usual and constant snacking aren’t likely to work during the school year. When school comes around, drastic changes can wreak havoc on migraine brains that love routine. Start to gradually enforce regular bedtimes, meals, and snack times. Set aside some reading time during the day to get the kids used to dedicating at least an hour of their day to homework. This way, it is a less drastic change at the beginning of the school year.
My son loves snacking throughout the day during the summer and having only one snack after lunch was a big adjustment for him during school at the beginning of last year. He was getting frequent migraine attacks triggered by hunger because he was not used to going without food for long stretches of time. This year, we are getting him ready for school by feeding him regular meals and snacks several weeks before the start of school, as well as requesting a snack accommodation, which will hopefully set him up for a successful school year.
Just as school supplies are essential for success, so is arming your child with knowledge and strategies to handle migraine at school. While dealing with this challenging disease is never easy, there are steps you can take to help your child have a few less hurdles. And know that you are not alone. There are many parents out there with migraine who are also there for their kiddos with migraine, and we are all trying our best. If you are looking to connect with other parents to exchange information and share your experiences in a safe space, you can join the Parenting With Migraine Facebook Support Group.
Good luck, and have a great school year!
- Saudi Pharm J. 2012 Jan; 20(1): 1–7
Marina Medved-Lentini is the founder of Parenting With Migraine, dedicated to helping people with migraine, especially parents, live a more empowered life by offering education, support, and hope. Parenting With Migraine is a Member of the Coalition for Headache and Migraine Patients (CHAMP). Marina is a Migraine at School Ambassador working to bring their program to local schools in Massachusetts to help kids with migraine thrive at school. You can find Marina on Instagram or her Facebook Support Group.
Migraine at School is a non-profit initiative managed by the Coalition for Headache and Migraine Patients (CHAMP) and the Danielle Byron Henry Migraine Foundation (DBHMF). In partnership with coalition participants, they have gathered the best resources and information for students, parents, and educators to ensure kids with headache diseases are given the best opportunity to excel in school.