Starting secondary school and managing the move up when your child has arthritis07 September 2020
The new school year has arrived, and we know parents are feeling both excited and nervous about their children going back to school.
Many people are anxious due to COVID-19 and it can feel unsettling adjusting to the ongoing changes, whether you’ve been shielding, or you're getting used to a different routine as lockdown eases.
However, the current guidance is that all children should return to school unless they have symptoms or test positive for COVID-19.
During this time, it's important to keep open lines of communication with form teachers (or equivalent) to consider how any of these changes impact on families and young people.
To find out more read the specific COVID-19 and school guidance for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Speaking to teachers
Your child’s teachers may not have met a young person with arthritis before so ensuring they talk to them early on about their condition, any concerns you have and how it affects them is a good idea.
It can be helpful for your child to explain how arthritis might affect them differently on different days, whether they experience pain, tiredness and if they are taking medication, how this affects them.
Our Individual healthcare Plan template can help get the conversation started and make sure your child gets the support they need.
There will be opportunities to meet new people when your child starts secondary school.
Reassure them that they don’t need to worry if it takes a bit of time to make new friends or if friendships change as you go through the year.
Try to help your child think about what they want other people to know about their condition. They might find that as they get friendlier with people, it will become easier to open up and tell them more. It’s always good to encourage your child to build a support network of friends who they can be honest with.
Wearing comfortable footwear can also help with walking around – you can check that teachers are happy for your child to wear trainers at school when they are having a flare up, if preferred.
There might also be options for your child to have a pass allowing them to leave their lessons a little earlier or later to avoid busy times, or to have a friend with them for support.
This is potentially more important now as many schools are implementing one-way systems which could result in a longer walk to get between classes.
It’s worth talking to teachers together with your child about all the options available, particularly to work around any COVID-19 safety processes, for example, staggered class times, one way corridors, wearing face masks, small group bubbles and how pupils are being advised to move between classes.
Pacing is important
You might find your child is fitting a lot more into their day at secondary school – travelling to and from school, more walking around during the day and homework.
Try to look at your child’s schedule together each day and encourage them to only take in what they need and to not to pack too much in, especially if they’re feeling particularly tired.
Being organised about homework will also help – if your child has multiple deadlines in one week, try to encourage them to spread things out. Using a timetable can help them to plan their days.
Case study: Sarah and Abigail
“It’s important to make sure everyone is aware that you can be ok one minute and not the next”
Sarah’s daughter Abigail has juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA), here she shares their experience and advice on navigating the move up to secondary school.
Abigail’s arthritis started as she left primary school and the timing was really difficult. Her condition has caused her to become very unwell at times, she’s had septic infections in her joints and very severe flare ups, requiring seven sets of joint injections so far.
Despite this, Abigail is extremely upbeat. There are days she’s very upset and in a lot of pain, but she still goes to school and enjoys taking part in as much as she can.
There are lots of things I would recommend parents think about if their child is about to move to secondary school.
- Sharing information about arthritis – I’d encourage parents to get all the leaflets and information they can and take this into the school to explain to head of year, form tutors and teachers. Starting a new school can be stressful and stress can bring on flare ups so it’s worthwhile being as be as prepared as you can be.
- Taking time off for hospital appointments – I made sure to speak to attendance officers about the time Abigail would need off for hospital appointments or if she was having a really bad flare.
- PE – PE is a big one. It’s not just the sports themselves, but there were days when Abigail couldn’t dress herself due to the pain, so being open and honest about how you feel on the day is important. There should always be alternative options if you’re not feeling up to it.
- Helping with handwriting – When Abigail is having a flare up, she finds handwriting a lot harder, so we try to find equipment that is easier for her to use. I’d suggest going into somewhere like Rymans to try different pens so you can find the one that’s most comfortable for your child and gives them the right wrist support.
If your child has arthritis and is about to make the move to secondary school, our Young People and Families Service can offer support and advice. You can find out more about what’s going on in your area or contact your local Young People and Family service.
- England (12-18 years) - firstname.lastname@example.org
- Northern Ireland (up to 18 years) - email@example.com
- Scotland (10-25 years) - firstname.lastname@example.org
- Wales (10-18 years) - email@example.com
Schools have a responsibility to make sure children with long term health conditions are properly supported through their education, but we know there can sometimes be challenges communicating with schools. For some ideas and guidance on speaking to school staff, you can visit Health Conditions in Schools Alliance website where you can find our Individual Healthcare Plan template for children with arthritis.
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- If you would like to talk to someone, you can call our free helpline on 0800 5200 520 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 8pm)
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Emma Luke’s daughter Olivia was diagnosed with JIA when she was 3. Here she shares her story and advice to other families with a child with arthritis.
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