How to help a child manage inflammatory bowel disease during school

Back to school season should be a time full of excitement and the anticipation of success in the upcoming school year.  For a child with inflammatory bowel disease, this should still be the case! IBD, which includes Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, is an inflammatory disease affecting approximately 1.6 million Americans, including as many as 80,000 children.

There is often confusion between IBD and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). IBS is a chronic disorder causing annoying and often painful abdominal and bowel symptoms. Although symptoms are clearly present, when the bowel is examined, there is no evidence of tissue damage.  In contrast, IBD is an inflammatory disease with changes seen in the tissue of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract.

IBD requires special types of treatment and management, especially when it comes to support in school.  Here are six helpful tips for children heading back to school with IBD.

Acclimate your child with the school.  Go with your child to tour the school, or ask the teacher to show your child which bathrooms are closest to the classroom and other activities, such as art, media and gym.

Be a team.  Collaborate with your child’s teachers, school nurses and administrators to develop a 504 plan for your child.  What is a 504 plan?  It is an educational plan that should contain a list of accommodations which may be required for a child with IBD to ensure that they are treated fairly and have the same access to education as other students.  For more information, visit the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation website.

Choose the best seat.  Work with your child’s teachers for special accommodations, including a seat close to the door or a permanent bathroom pass, so your child may excuse themselves to use the bathroom more easily.

Develop a plan.  Discuss stressful situations that may occur while in school, such as accidents or feeling ill during the school day, and develop an action plan for your child.  Join forces with the school nurse in creating an action plan that can help your child feel supported.

Encourage activities.  Reassure your child and encourage participation in after school activities, including sports, clubs and social events.  It is important to maintain an excellent quality of life to ensure a successful school year!

Fill a bag.  Add medications to the list of back-to-school materials, and don’t forget a change of clothes, snacks, or a bottle of water, just in case!

For more information, visit the The Center for Pediatric IBD at CHOP.

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