Taking IBD to School

An important part of our mission is improving the quality of life for children and adults with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. For children and teens, that means making sure they are comfortable at school and that they are given every opportunity for a successful education.

The ups and downs of life with IBD, with its periods of flares and remission, can affect your child’s school attendance and, at times, their academic performance. There’s also the possibility that IBD can impact on your child’s social life at school, especially if he or she has to miss certain classes or activities due to their illness.

We can help guide you through securing specialized accommodations for your student with IBD, from elementary school through high school, as well as how to help your child deal with the social and emotional impacts of taking IBD to school.

IBD Accommodations at School

Your child is entitled to certain accommodations in public school, and at certain private schools that received federal funding. The most effective way to do this is to establish a 504 accommodations plan

Section 504 of the federal Rehabilitation Act addresses disparities in education faced by children with physical disabilities and requires those children’s physical needs be met while at school. The standard for determining if a child is disabled is the same as the test under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Your child’s accommodations can be negotiated and then put in writing in a 504 plan that will be in effect the entire school year.

Sample accommodations include:

  • “Stop the clock testing,” which means that the clock stops during an exam when your student goes to the bathroom, and starts again when the student returns.

  • Allowing make up work and take-home exams if your child is hospitalized because of their IBD, or too ill to attend school.

  • Giving your child an open or unrestricted bathroom pass to use as frequently as they need.

  • Permission to use a private bathroom, such as in the nurses’ office.

  • An at-home tutor if your child has to be out of school for a longer stretch of time.

Talking to Teachers and Staff About IBD

There’s no reason that everyone your child comes in contact with during the school day has to know all the details of your child’s illness. But the important details should be shared with your child’s principal, school nurse, and teacher so that they know when and how to step in and help your child if need be.

Discuss with your child and their doctor about who else may need to know, such as the school counselor, or a favorite staff member.

You can also help advocate for your child by requesting a meeting with your child’s education team and discussing what IBD is and how it may affect your child at school.

Your conversation with the school should include:

  • How critically necessary it is for your child to be able to freely use the bathroom at any time and without delay to avoid unnecessary attention, or worse, humiliating accidents.

  • How to discreetly help your child with his or her IBD care during the day, including taking medication, frequenting the bathroom, and dealing with chronic pain.

  • How symptoms and flares affect your child, physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Our guide for teachers and other school personnel can be a great resource for helping your child’s school learn about IBD and how it affects students.

Helping Your Child Manage Their IBD at School

It’s normal to want to protect your child from anything difficult, uncomfortable, or hurtful. But giving them the tools to begin managing their IBD on their own will set them up for greater success, especially as they prepare to leave high school and enter college.

There are some important aspects of attending school with IBD your teen should remember:

  • Even though they may miss school because of their illness, they are still responsible for completing necessary assignments.

  • It’s up to them to decide whether they want to tell friends about their diagnosis, and what details to share.

  • There are many successful people who live with IBD, including celebrities, businessmen and women, and elite athletes. They can make their dreams come true, too!

IBD and Mental Health

Helping your child navigate their feelings is an important aspect of managing IBD at school. It’s not uncommon for children to feel private or even embarrassed about their illness.

Positive Body Image with IBD

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Positive Body Image with IBD Three patients discuss how IBD affects the way they view their bodies and share tips for keeping a positive outlook.

Here are some tips that may help your child feel more comfortable at school:

  • Help them prepare an emergency kit that can be stored discreetly in their backpack or the nurse's office. The kit should include toilet paper, wet wipes, powder, hand sanitizer, a small can of air freshener, disposable gloves to handle soiled clothes, freezer bags for soiled clothes, clean underwear, and clean shorts, pants, or leggings.

  • Have them create a private signal with their teacher to indicate they need to use the bathroom.

  • Tell them to request a seat closest to the classroom exit for when they need to leave to use the bathroom.

  • Work with them to come up with a plan for getting notes if they miss a class or a test.

  • Encourage them to confide in a trusted friend that can be a source of support during the school day.