What Teachers Need To Know

Signs, Symptoms, and Triggers of CP
Recognizing chronic pain in students is often very challenging because pain can manifest in people differently. The signs, symptoms, and triggers associated with chronic pain can also be different for different types of pain so it can be difficult to recognize pain in your students.

To help you identify chronic pain in the classroom and potential triggers to avoid, we’ve listed some common signs, symptoms and triggers associated with the most prevalent types of chronic pain conditions in children and adolescents. Students may have all, some, or none of these symptoms but the chart will give you a better understanding of what is common for students who experience different types of chronic pain.

Signs, symptoms and triggers
Click to enlarge

Altering Expectations
Students’ pain may fluctuate from day to day, or even hour to hour. It is important that you trust students’ reports of his/her pain as they are the most valid reporter of pain intensity. If a student experiences severe pain in the morning but appears fine in the afternoon, it does not mean that the student is faking his/her pain. This is simply the nature of pain; it is extremely complex and often fluctuates in both severity and frequency.

However, this can make it difficult to know how to alter expectations for these students. Many teachers struggle with figuring out what to request from students whose pain symptoms frequently interfere with school functioning. Because pain symptoms are different for many students, it is important to know that there is no general answer to this type of question. You should meet with the student, parents, and the school team (and potentially members of the healthcare team) to develop expectations that are realistic and attainable. Having the student be part of this process can increase ‘buy in’ and make it more likely that the students will reach and potentially surpass the agreed upon expectations.

Consulting the Experts
Student. Teachers should know that students are experts on their own pain. Students, parents, the school team, and the healthcare team should be consulted when chronic pain threatens school functioning. It is important that all invested parties meet to develop an appropriate plan that will work for everyone involved.

Care Team. Also, remember that healthcare professionals at your local hospital or members of the student’s care team (i.e. family physician, psychologist, etc.) may be able to help answer questions you have. Often, healthcare professionals can provide insight into students’ pain experiences and help support you and the school team as you move forward.

Teachers. As most junior high and high school students have several teachers in a given semester, all teachers should meet as a group at least once to discuss accommodations being put in place in each of their classrooms. Fellow teachers may be your best resource to discover classroom strategies that you haven’t thought of. It is also important to stay consistent across settings in terms of accommodations and expectations being placed on a given student.

School Psychologist. Other members of the school team, including the school psychologist, may be particularly helpful when working with students who have chronic pain. School psychologists remain current in evidence-based practices and can identify a variety of effective accommodations and adaptations to improve school functioning for students. School psychologists are also trained in consultation and can act as a liaison between you, the school team, and the student’s care team. School Psychologists are there to support you in your position and may be one of the best resources you possess.