Back-to-School Tips for Children With Chronic Conditions
Checklist for Kids with Asthma, Diabetes, Food Allergies and Other Medical Concerns
Updated August 2022
Back to school – it's that time again for new clothes, school supplies and classroom visits.
But for students who are managing chronic conditions, like asthma, diabetes and food allergies, back to school can require more planning than the last-minute rush to buy a box of crayons.
Make Special Accommodations
Children with chronic conditions need to have an appointment with their physician before the start of each school year. During this visit, it's important to get all of the necessary medical forms signed, including a release for the school to administer medication.
You'll also want to determine if your child could benefit from a 504 plan, which provides support services such as extended time on tests, pre-approved nurse's office visits or the ability to leave the classroom for short breaks. Be sure to update your child's accommodations each year, and talk to your physician and other providers to get an idea of what might be included. Keep in mind, 504 plans are different than an individualized education plan (IEP), which provides individual instruction and special education. They're each covered by different laws and work in different ways.
Get to Know the School Staff
Before the first day of school, meet with your child's teachers, school nurse, playground or cafeteria supervisor, principal and any others who may have daily contact with your student.
"Communication is key. No matter the condition your child has, it's important to make sure everyone caring for your child while they're at school is aware of symptoms that the child may show and know the plan of action," says Miriam Dreifuss, MD, a pediatrician at Northwestern Medicine.
Don't assume they are all aware of your child's unique needs. This is an ideal time to explain your child's condition and request clarity on what support they have and what you can help them with. For example, you can provide:
- Signs and symptoms of problems, along with a simple description of the condition and what needs to happen if the child needs emergency care.
- Provide contact information, including for friends or family members that may be contacted if you are not available. Signed consent forms may be required. Don't assume that they will allow grandparents to make decisions in your absence without a signed consent form.
- A description of how much help your child might need, or if they can take care of their condition independently. Ask if staff members know how to use specific tools for the condition, such as glucose meters or Epipens.
- Let them know how your child reacts to a low or high blood sugar (for kids with diabetes)
- In the case of allergies, find out where your child will eat and how often the lunch tables are sanitized.
- Educate staff members about how your child describes an allergic reaction (such as tingly lips or an itchy throat).
- Encourage teachers to avoid using food as rewards in the classroom. Explain that your child should not be included in any food rewards in the school and that they understand that. Ask them to share this information with all parents.
- Share tips and insight from previous teachers about your child's condition and what has worked well in other classrooms.
The communication doesn't stop there. When the school year is in full swing, check in once a month, with a quick phone call or email to discuss any adjustments or observations, and to see if any medical supplies need to be replenished.
Whenever possible, it's a good idea to include children in the conversations as well. Asking your child to participate in these discussions empowers them to manage their condition. If appropriate, order a medical alert bracelet (or necklace) for your child, and encourage them to always wear or carry it.
Most schools are equipped and ready to help your child. Being part of the process and knowing who can help your child can alleviate some of the back-to-school jitters.
Stock Up on Medical Supplies
In addition to new folders and notebooks, there are certain medical supplies your child may need to have available throughout the day because these supplies may not be provided by the school. It is important to talk with the school what supplies can be brought in and where they will be stored. These supplies might include:
- Juice, healthy snacks, glucose pills to treat low blood sugar levels
- An extra battery for a glucose meter
- Test strips
- Constant glucometer instructions and extra supplies
- Water and instructions about treating high blood sugar levels
- Instructions about administering insulin, such as how often and how much needs to be administered
- Foods that don't contain allergens
- Tissues for runny noses
- If appropriate, order a medical alert bracelet (or necklace) for your child, and encourage them to always wear or carry it.
Discuss with the school how they would like the supplies stored. Dr. Dreifuss also recommends checking the expiration date for all medications and replace them as needed. Make sure each item is labeled with your child's name and date of birth.
Communication and a bit of extra planning ensures that going back to school is an exciting time in your child's life.