back to school with a medical condition
September 07, 2021

Back to School with a Medical Condition

New year, new teachers, new classmates and new adventures ahead. It's daunting for every child – even more so if they have a medical condition. Here are some tips to keep in mind to make sure they feel safe and at ease when the school year begins. 


telling the teachers about medical condition


When should you tell the teacher about your medical condition? 

If your child has a medical condition, it’s probably best to tell their teacher right at the beginning of the school year. Diagnoses like autism, ADHD, food allergies, diabetes or any serious health condition might affect school performance and attendance. So if your child has special medical needs, a quick private chat with their new teacher will help them do their job better.

You might have reservations about informing the school about your child’s diagnosis because you fear they will ‘label’ them. Remember that teachers will only use this information as a way to guide the pupil, make the school environment safer, and possibly individualize their teaching (making the classroom a more suitable learning environment for them).

Also, remember that no one knows your child better than you do, so let the teacher know about anything you have found that works best for them. This will set the foundations for collaboration and open communication throughout the school year. 


telling the classmates about medical condition


Telling friends or classmates about medical conditions 

School can be a tough place for kids with a medical condition – not because of the H&S policies, student support counselors or allergy free lunches, but because so much of their lives is impacted by what other kids think of them. They don’t want to be labelled as ‘weird’ or ‘different’.

There are many ways you can support your child in telling their friends:

  • Let them feel heard – Your child might worry that their friends will treat them differently after knowing about their diagnosis. Reassure your child that having a condition is not something to feel ashamed of. But don’t dismiss their worries – your child’s feelings are real, and they deserve to have them heard. 
  • Discuss when and how to start the conversation – Advise your child on what the right moment might be to bring up the topic, for instance during lunch. Also discuss how to explain important issues in simple terms, such as what a specific condition entails and how friends could help in case of an emergency (get an adult, get a sugary snack, lower your voice etc.). It might help to try a little role-playing where you go over questions that might come up during the conversation, so your child feels prepared. 
  • Ask how they’d feel if the roles were reversed – Remind your child that friends care about each other and surely if the roles were reversed, they would want to know about their friend’s diagnosis in order to better understand, help and be there for them. 
  • Offer to inform the friends’ parents – Contacting the friends’ parents might make it easier for your child to talk about their condition. It's also a good idea before any sleepovers or play dates. Of course, it’s important to ask for permission first – or your child might be caught by surprise when a friend brings it up. 
  • Set the right tone – The way other kids and their parents think about your child’s condition depends greatly on the tone you both use when talking about it. Reinforce the message that yes, it’s a health condition and as such it needs to be managed … but the diagnosis doesn’t define who your child is. It’s just something that they have to keep under control. But with the appropriate adjustments they can succeed and go on with school, sports, friends and life in general.


medical supplies at school


Medical Supplies at School. 

In order to take proper care of your child – as well as by law – the school needs to know if your child carries any medical equipment, what medication they must take and when. Keep in mind that all prescription medication administered in school settings require written authorisation from your child’s doctor, as well as parent written consent. Also, the medication must be brought to school in the original labelled container prepared by the doctor or the pharmacy.

All medication should be brought to the school by an adult and handed to another adult, until your child is old or mature enough to handle this responsibility. You might not need to carry it every day – you may ask the doctor or pharmacist to divide your child's medication into two labelled bottles, so that one can be kept at home and the other (if allowed) at the school.

In any case, it might be good to prepare a list before the school year starts – write down all the medical supplies your child will need during the school day, to go over every morning and make sure you never forget anything essential.

Another thing to establish is how and where your child’s medication and / or equipment needs to be stored during the day. Generally, all non-emergency medication is stored in locked cabinets / cupboards – this however doesn’t apply to medication that your child might need in an emergency (asthma inhalers, AAIs etc.), which should be quickly accessible rather than locked away. The pupil should know where the medication is, and who to ask when they need it. It would be great to have the medication readily available everywhere your child might spend time (nurse’s office, classroom, etc.).

Medicines should be stored in a way that ensures they will be effective when administered; as a rule of thumb, most medication is best kept in a cool, dry place – although specific ones like insulin need to be stored in a fridge. Inform the school on the right ways to store your child’s supplies, so you make sure they won’t stop working due to improper storage.

If possible, give the school medications that won't expire until after the school year ends. Otherwise, make a note on the calendar now so you'll be alerted in time and can replace them. 

Child Law Advice has further information on how the school should support children with a medical condition.


Adjustments that need to be made at school 

Good communication is essential to health condition care and management in school – not just because the staff know what to do in case of an emergency, but also so they can implement changes or adjustments in order to avoid one from arising.

  • Lunch & Allergies – Ask if it might be possible to set up an allergen-awareness table, which should include friends who are eating safe meals. Ask the teachers / staff to discourage food sharing, and to educate kids to wash their hands with soap before and after eating meals. Staff should wipe down lunch tables with a disposable disinfecting wipe rather than a sponge, as this could spread allergens. Also, remember to ask teachers not to use food as a reward in the classroom, and to tell you well in advance about any food-related school events. Allergy Awesomeness has some cool ideas for allergy-friendly school lunches.
  • Food & Diabetes – There are food-related issues that need to be addressed before the school year begins, such as snacks, lunches and party food. If your child takes insulin, you need to explain to their teacher why snacks are so important to make sure they’re never delayed or withheld. Your child can participate in school lunches, provided that there are healthy choices – otherwise, packed lunches are probably the safest solution. Ask to be informed in advance about the menu and choices available, as well as about special events like parties or trips so that you can manage your child’s insulin schedule / food arrangements accordingly. Diabetes UK has excellent recommendations for healthy packed lunches.
  • Asthma & PE – Exercise is an asthma trigger, but it’s also important to keep healthy. Children with asthma may indeed be able to take part in PE, as long as this is done. Let the school know that your child should be exempted by any heavy physical activity (e.g. races); they should be allowed to take their inhaler with them, to use 10 minutes before physical activity. They should be allowed extra-time for warming up, as this is especially crucial in case of asthma, and they should have their reliever medication readily available during PE. Have a further read on asthma management at school.
  • Epilepsy & School Activities – If your child has photosensitive epilepsy, computers and TVs with flickering screens might trigger a seizure, just like flickering lights or fast-moving and flashing images – so you need to let their teachers know about this. The same goes for swimming classes during PE – it is essential that the teacher and lifeguards fully understand the condition so they can readily recognise if a child is having a seizure in the water. The Epilepsy Society explains teaching children with epilepsy in more detail.
  • Quiet Places for Autism or Asperger's – Children with Autism or ADHD can struggle with sensory overload. They have to use so much energy to cope with sensory stimuli like bright lights, loud noises or learning to share and play. In order to avoid anxiety and meltdowns, ask the school to provide a quiet room where they can spend some time to unwind and recharge.


medical id for school


Carry an ID card or Medical Bracelet 

Even though teachers and school nurses will be informed of your child’s diagnosis, there will always be times at the beginning or end of the day when they are on the bus, or with the lunchroom staff, or walking home alone.

During these transition times, your child still needs to be protected – which is why it’s crucial that they always carry an ID card or they wear a medical bracelet. The bracelet will provide vital information to paramedics and doctors if they are unconscious during an emergency. It’s also a good idea to include your phone number – so you can be contacted straight away if anything happens. A bracelet or card can also carry practical details like a locker or bus number, to help remember these details.

Medical bracelets today can be very subtle and nice-looking – in fact, certain ones could even be customized and done in school colours to match your child’s uniform.

Going back to school can feel like a problematic and worrisome time for you and your child with a medical condition – but it really doesn’t have to be. With just a bit of extra planning, open communication and the right type of adjustments, your child will be able to look forward to the upcoming school year as much as any kid their age.


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