Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Planning Ahead for School Health and Success

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Planning Ahead for School Health and Success

Article excerpt

With the end of the school year and summer approaching fast, it's hard to think about anything else besides recitals, report cards, and vacations. But we all know the feeling of anticipation that comes with a new school year; uncertainty and anxiety around new environments, teachers, and other things to consider for your child with special healthcare needs. And whether your child will be enrolled in a traditional classroom, inclusive classroom or special education, it's important to ensure that your child's educational environment will be the best fit for their unique needs (having such an environment guaranteed by federal law, too).

Discussing an individualized healthcare plan (IHP) with your child's school nurse is one way you can prepare for the coming school year and make sure their special needs are addressed accordingly. An IHP clearly identifies a child's current healthcare needs and how to best manage them during school and during school related activities, such as after school events, and on the school bus. The plan sets clear care expectations, assigns care responsibilities and establishes a line of communication between the child, parents, school nurses and outside healthcare providers.

"[When making an IHP] we have to develop trust, we have to work together and seek solutions together ... we work through this process to find the kinds of things we need and how we can reach them so the child can be safe and healthy at school and school activities," says Charlotte Burt, a former school nurse and nurse consultant for Heartland Regional Genetics and Newborn Screening Collaborative's IHP Project. The project is working to improve IHP knowledge by gathering information from stakeholders from across the Midwest to inform web and print resources.

A child with any known health condition that requires the care or attention of others should have an IHP in place, says Burt. Having an IHP helps ensure that your child's health needs, whether constant or occasional, can be properly addressed at school if and when they come up.

Creating an IHP is, by its very nature, a very individualized process. But Burt says that there are some steps that should be common across plans.

The first is for parents to work early on with their child's healthcare providers and school nurse to clearly define and articulate their child's health needs. That could mean, even before your child starts schooling or at a new school, having conversations to be prepared. In addition, Burt also recommends parents utilize a health advocate, a person who has made an IHP before, or works with parents with special needs children, to help guide them through the IHP process.

A plan should cover a child's everyday health needs: medication, dietary and feeding information, signs and symptoms of an oncoming episode, and allergens, among other notables.

Brenda Hummel, whose seven-year-old daughter, Andrea, is non-verbal and requires help with all physical tasks, recommends that parents create a "day in the life" of their child.

"From the time you get up to the time you go to bed, what do you do? What medications are given? What are you looking for? What do you do when something isn't right? How do you know when something isn't right?," said Hummel. "Everything you can think of that can give another individual the best insight into your son or daughter so they can be the best caregiver or advocate while at school."

But it's important to discuss health outside of the everyday, too, says Burt. Plan ahead for how your child's care will be managed during field trips, school events, during emergency situations, such as a fire evacuation or snow day delays, and other novel situations. …

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