For children, teens, and even young adults suffering from chronic pain — going back to school can seem like an insurmountable task. This significant problem can affect their ability to attend school/classes on a regular basis. In one study, 44% of students with chronic pain missed 25% of their classes and 20% of students missed half or more. Additionally, young people struggling with chronic pain miss out on many chances for social development and thus are often behind in this area.

Chronic pain is any pain that lasts longer than expected or any recurring pain that occurs at least 3 times in a three month period. An estimated 20%-35% of children meet this requirement. The pain can stem from illness, injury, or trauma — but sometimes the cause is unknown. Whatever the reason for the pain, going back to school is still critical for cognitive and social development.

So how can you make going back to school a little less painful?

1: Start preparing early.

You might miss some sales, but you’ll also beat the crowds and the time crunch. Give yourself and your child the ability to roam at your own pace, and pick up the things you need.

2: Make a list, and check things off on the good days.

Another plus for preparing early. Make a list of all the things that need to get done, and then only do them on days when you feel good!

3: Shop online.

Getting ready for back to school is all about making strategic decisions. There are many things you can grab online to save yourself the hassle of running out and about. This might be a little harder for picking up clothing and such, but it works really well for basic school supplies.

4: Practice going to school.

For parents of kids with chronic pain, it’s a good idea to do a ‘dry-run’ of going to school. This is especially useful if your child is just starting school, or just moving to a new one. Take the exact route you plan to get to school, with the exact method (walk, bike, drive, etc.). If possible, see if the teacher can meet you at the school so that on your child’s first day, they will see a familiar face.

5: Make and keep a routine.

This is especially difficult after the long and lazy days of summer. But establishing a bedtime and morning routine can do a lot to reduce the stress surrounding going back to school. Try to limit screens, and include talking about your day in your routine.

Going back to school for older students

1: Find out about your school’s disability resources.

This is not just for new students! If you suffer from chronic pain but never thought you needed special accommodations, talk to your university’s office of disability resources (or student help, or whatever they call it at your school)! The people who work there are in your corner and will help you find ways to make your school year better.

2: Fight for your rights!

It might be frustrating, but it is so worth it. Erin Shaw, a writer for The Mighty, put it this way:

Sometimes you have to fight for your accommodations. I recently was placed on the third floor of a dorm again, when I had an accommodation for first-floor only rooms. While it was frustrating and took a few weeks, I eventually had someone from housing help me to stay in my current room instead of moving for the next year. I could have buckled under the stress and moved across campus to a dorm that likely would not have worked for me, but my mom (who also has fibro) encouraged me to not give up. You can’t give up when someone questions your accommodation needs. Legally, you are in the right.

3: Take breaks if you need them.

Taking care of yourself in the short term helps you in the long term. If you’re pushing your limits too much, eventually you’ll break. It is far better to take a break, eat, nap, or even just watch Netflix. You might think if you don’t get it all done, the whole world will collapse. But it won’t. So take a breath, eat a granola bar, and tackle your to-do list at whatever pace you need.

4: Don’t feel guilty if something is too hard.

Not everything will be easy, and some things will be too hard. That is OK. Chronic pain affects your ability to do things, and that’s not your fault. If you’re experiencing a fibro fog, or flare up, or even your regular level of pain, it will impede your ability to do some things with ease. So give yourself a little grace, and remember that you’re not at fault.

5: Join or start a disability rights or support group.

Chronic pain is often isolating, as it can often prevent you from getting out a doing social activities. But surrounding yourself with people who understand, care, and can help will make all the difference. You’ll meet people with similar disabilities to yours, and those completely different. So make a point to get out there, and find those accepting and understanding people.

Most importantly

For all, celebrate the success.

It’s easy to focus on the things you didn’t do, or can’t do. Instead, focus on the positive. Adjust your expectations, and constantly re-evaluate. And remember to take care of yourself first, you deserve it!


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