Setting Up School Accommodations for Your Child with IBD: What Parents Need to Know
Published: July 21, 2023
Going back to school can be an exciting time for students, marked by the anticipation of reuniting with classmates and teachers after the summer and starting a new grade. However, as the new school year approaches, it’s crucial to address the unique challenges faced by K-12 students with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), which includes Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. These students often require specific accommodations to manage their condition while succeeding academically.
The unpredictable nature of IBD symptoms, including abdominal pain, fatigue, and frequent bathroom visits, can profoundly impact a student’s ability to thrive in school. Studies have shown that students with chronic illnesses, including IBD, may face lower academic achievement.
Considering these challenges, it’s essential for parents to partner with their children’s schools to establish the necessary support systems to set them up for success.
Here’s what you need to consider as the school year starts.
Understanding the Accommodation Process
In K-12 education, 504 plans are essential for providing accommodations to students with IBD. These plans, based on Section 504 of the Americans with Disabilities Act, ensure that students have equal access to education and support, regardless of their medical condition. Implementing a 504 plan requires collaboration between parents, healthcare professionals, and school administrators.
“504 plans really protect young people and make sure they have access to accommodations if there’s ever a prickly teacher or a substitute,” said Jennie David, PhD, a pediatric psychologist at Nationwide Children’s Hospital who specializes in treating children and adolescents with IBD. At age 12, David was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. When she started seventh grade at a new school, she felt nervous about sharing her condition with her peers and teachers. She worried about the implications for her education, fearing that her dreams of attending college would be jeopardized. It was during this time that David realized the significance of academic accommodations.
A 504 plan covers necessary accommodations for medical and/or behavioral needs that might not directly impact learning, while an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) offers customized accommodations and/or instruction to support students’ learning, medical and behavioral needs. David advises parents to obtain an IEP or 504 plan for their child, even if they are in remission, to be prepared for potential symptom flares. She also points out that if a child already has a 504 plan for a separate disability, accommodations for IBD can be added.
Accommodations for Students with IBD Can Include:
- Unlimited bathroom access to accommodate urgent needs.
- Stop-the-clock testing, allowing students to pause the timer during restroom breaks.
- Access to water and snacks to manage symptoms and maintain energy levels.
- Medication administration, with proper documentation, to ensure timely dosing.
- Extra time for tests and assignments.
- Excused absences related to IBD care, including appointments and hospitalizations.
- Preferential seating to provide proximity to restrooms.
Putting Accommodations in Place for Your Child with IBD
Begin by working with your child’s IBD team to obtain the necessary medical documentation that outlines the specific accommodations required for the student’s condition. This documentation should then be put in writing, to create a 504 plan that will be effective for the entire school year. The Foundation has a template that you can use. It is important to submit this documentation promptly, ideally before the start of the school year. The school has 30 days to respond after receiving the request letter.
Next, reach out to the school’s designated 504 coordinator, often the school guidance counselor, and schedule a meeting to discuss the plan. During this meeting, collaborate with the school to finalize the plan and ensure that all necessary accommodations are put in place. Remember that the plan will need to be reviewed and updated annually, considering any changes in the student’s needs or activities.
Tips for Navigating School Accommodations
First, maintain written documentation of all discussions, agreements, and actions related to the accommodations. This will help you track progress and provide a reference for future discussions. Stay actively involved in the process by advocating for your child’s needs and following up with the school when necessary. It can be helpful to involve a support network of trusted individuals, such as healthcare professionals or advocates, who can provide guidance and throughout the process. Customizing accommodations based on the unique needs of your child is crucial, taking into account factors like extracurricular activities, transitions between grade levels or schools, and standardized testing.
Additionally, David recommends having open conversations with your child about their accommodations, and acknowledging their thoughts, feelings, and concerns about privacy.
She emphasizes the importance of explaining to children that having accommodations is like an insurance policy. It’s better to have them in place, even if not currently needed, rather than trying to obtain them later.
“Having accommodations is not a commentary on your ability or potential,” said David. “It’s a necessary aspect of your IBD care.”
For more detailed information and resources regarding school accommodations for IBD, click here.
You can make an impact on IBD cures! Please consider making a donation to the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation.