Tips for student dealing with Crohn's disease

SEATTLE -- Heading back to school can stir up anxiety in any child, especially those dealing with a health issue. For children with inflammatory bowel disease, stepping foot in a classroom can be downright terrifying.

"They're afraid the things they fear the most will happen at school," said Teresa Wachs, a nurse at Seattle Children's Hospital.

To calm their concerns, Wachs has offered several tips to parents of children with IBD.

In the estimated 1.4 million people who suffer from IBD, including Crohn's and ulcerative colitis, the digestive tract becomes swollen and inflamed, causing abdominal pain, diarrhea, fever and nausea. The disease most commonly occurs in people ages 15 to 30, though it can occur in children as young as 2 years old.

Unlike other health conditions, such as asthma, students with IBD don't typically want their peers to know about the condition.

"They're worried about their friends asking them about going to the bathroom all the time or why they take certain medications," Wachs said.

IBD symptoms also tend to increase with stress, so if a child is anxious at school they are more likely to experience painful or embarrassing effects.

But Wachs said being proactive can help kids and teens avoid these issues.

"It's important for parents to partner with the school and educate staff," Wachs said. "It takes away some of that worry and makes kids look forward to going to school, rather than being anxious and missing days."

Here are some of Wachs' tips. See them all on Seattle Children's Hospital blog "On the Pulse."

Advocate for your child at school - talk with a teacher, nurse or counselor

Talk to the person you're most engaged with at school, whether that's a nurse, teacher or counselor, and let them know what's going on with your child. Also, encourage teachers, the school nurse, counselors and coaches to review information on Crohn's and colitis.

Bring an extra set of clothes to school

Be prepared: Bring an extra set of clothes to school. Keep them in the nurse's office or in an extra gym bag in the child's locker. Having a small, discrete air freshener that doesn't have a floral fragrance that they can use when they're in the bathroom can eliminate embarrassing situations. Also consider keeping wet wipes on hand.

Stop the clock for testing

Your child should also have in place a process called "stop the clock" testing. Stop the clock can be used at any age, including during college exams for the SAT and ACT. If a child has to leave an exam to go to the bathroom, the time that they're gone will be added to the time allotted. Stop the clock provides an equal opportunity for your child to be as successful on a test as any other child in the room.

Discuss a late-arrival plan with school officials

Morning time is challenging for people with IBD. When your body wakes up in the morning, so does your gastrointestinal tract. Your child can experience severe cramps and extended visits to the bathroom. This can cause even the most well-intended child to be late for school. They shouldn't be penalized for that. If there's an opportunity to arrange their class schedule so that they can have a late arrival, that's the best solution. But if not, the teacher needs to work with you and your child on how to make up or accommodate for those late arrivals.

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