Is it safe for students to stay in school if they are experiencing pain?
Whether or not a student who is experiencing pain should go home from school depends on the type and severity of pain being experienced. For students whose pain is frequent and relatively short-lasting, you should encourage staying in school while offering alternative methods to reduce pain (see accommodations section for helpful tips). For students whose pain is severe and long-lasting, staying in school may not be productive or helpful. Ideally, if a student suffers from chronic pain there should be a plan in place to address pain occurrences at school. The most effective plan is one developed in conjunction with teachers, parents, administration, support staff, the healthcare team, and most importantly, the student.
Your response to a student in pain should depend on several factors including the type of pain that the student is experiencing, the severity of the pain, how frequently the student experiences this type of pain, and whether or not there is a plan in place to address these painful symptoms at school.
- Less Severe Pain. For students whose pain is less severe and who do not currently have a pain plan developed for school, it is important to show sympathy toward them without placing too much attention on the painful symptoms. Engaging students in activities that will take their attention away from the pain would be most effective. You can check back in with students periodically to see how they are feeling but try to avoid bringing the pain up if they appear to be feeling better. If the pain does not improve, it may be best to send them home.
- Severe Pain. If a student is experiencing severe pain and there is no pain plan currently in place at school, parents should be phoned. If this pain is associated with a known medical condition, look for guidance from the parents and the student as to what they are most comfortable with. It will be unlikely that the student will be productive if they are experiencing severe pain symptoms but if they feel able to stay at school, they may want to wait it out. If this pain is not associated with a known medical condition, parents may want to seek further medical assistance.
- Pain Plan. If the student has a pain plan in place for school, teachers should follow the pre-developed steps to address the pain as effectively as possible.
Do students fake his/her pain? What signs should I look for to know if a student is faking?
Research has shown that children very rarely fake pain. In fact, children are much more likely to hide pain than to fake it. As such, it is important that you treat all pain complaints seriously and provide support accordingly.
Are teachers allowed to administer prescribed medication to students?
This response varies between school boards. While some teachers are allowed to administer prescribed medication with the written consent of a parent, very few teachers actually do administer medication because there is often no safe spot to store the medication in the classroom. Most often, medications are safely stored in the school’s office and given by members of the administration or the school nurse. Ultimately, this is a question that must be answered by your local school board and school administration.
Will medication impact the students’ ability to do school work or effectively engage in school activities?
Every medication is different and many medications will have different effects on students. It is important that you are aware of any medication that the student may be taking and the potential side-effects associated with that medication. Although you are not a physician, it is important to understand medical factors that may influence effective learning in the classroom. If a student begins a new medication and you are concerned about the impact it may have on school functioning, it may be beneficial to set up a meeting with the school team, healthcare team, parents, and student (if appropriate) to discuss how best to address these concerns. It is also important to note that pain itself can have a detrimental impact on attention and productivity in the classroom. Although the addition of a medication could have an impact on school functioning, it is important to remember that the pain experience alone can negatively impact engagement in school work.
When should you seek help from other professionals?
When teaching students with chronic pain, you may require support from the school team, members of the healthcare team, the parents, and the student (if appropriate) to develop a pain plan that will help address increasing symptoms in the classroom. Once a plan has been developed, you may need regularly scheduled check-ins with the school psychologist or guidance counselor. As you become more comfortable with implementing the pain plan, check-ins may become less frequent. Ultimately, you should seek support when you feel as though you and/or the student may benefit from the expertise of fellow professionals.
How long can we expect students with chronic pain to be out of school?
Once again, the length of time that students may miss due to chronic pain conditions can vary widely. Some students may miss school periodically for whole days whereas other students may miss partial school days for an extended period of time. In order to mitigate the negative factors associated with frequent or prolonged absenteeism, parents, teachers, and other school personnel should meet to develop an effective plan to address missed school.
Are there ways that we can alter the classroom environment to better support children with chronic pain?
There are some very helpful strategies to improve the school environment for students with chronic pain. Please see the accommodations section of this website for more details. If your student suffers from a particular type of chronic pain, please use our resources section to identify electronic and print resources that may provide accommodations related to specific conditions.
Should teachers take an active role in the treatment of children with chronic pain?
Teachers should always try to play an active role in supporting students with chronic pain; however, most teachers are not trained to treat chronic pain. You can, however, help support treatment strategies implemented by fellow professionals. To identify the most effective role that you can play in the treatment and management of students’ chronic pain, hold a team meeting with parents, teachers, and fellow professionals. Everyone can have a role to play in supporting students with chronic pain but it is important that everyone involved understands and accepts those roles and responsibilities and is trained and capable to fulfill them.
Should teachers discuss chronic pain as a class when a student has been diagnosed with a chronic pain condition?
Students with chronic pain may or may not be comfortable with teachers discussing their conditions with their class. For some, class discussions would further acceptance and understanding amongst peers. For others, discussing chronic pain as a class may be embarrassing and/or target them by bullies. It is important that you approach this on an individual basis and ultimately agree to adhere to the wishes of the particular student.