People living with migraine often hide their symptoms. Between attacks, we look and behave like everyone else. To the untrained eye, it can be difficult to recognize a migraine patient, even in the middle of an attack. The early warning signs are almost invisible. By the time an attack has progressed to a noticeable severity, most of us have already retreated to isolation. Hours later, we return to polite society, looking none the worse for our experience. No wonder no one understands migraine. They’ve never actually seen what it does.
Nowhere to hide
There’s one place where it’s difficult to hide migraine—school. The tightly-packed schedules, over-crowded classrooms, and sensory overload creates an unfriendly environment for children with migraine. Many are still learning what it means to have migraine and haven’t yet developed the social skills to recognize and ask for what they need. It’s common for children with migraine to wait several hours before telling an adult they are having a migraine attack.
Students with migraine deserve better
It would be so simple to permit sunglasses, a wide-brimmed hat, a water bottle, and some ear plugs. As an adult with migraine, these essentials are never far away. None of use think twice about using them whenever and wherever needed. We have easy access to our prescribed medication and never have to wait to be called on or given permission to get relief. Students with migraine should not be delayed by adult schedules in order to access the treatments prescribed by their doctors. We need to take their requests for help seriously.
Suggestions for educators
Ten percent of all U.S. students under the age of 18 have migraine. Based on the average class size of 15 students, that’s 1-2 students in every single classroom in America.
Migraine is protected disability by both the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and by the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA). Schools have a responsibility to provide a free and appropriate education to all students in the least restrictive environment. IEPs and 504 Plans are entirely appropriate for students with migraine.
Some students with migraine may struggle with staying awake, concentrating, focusing, and learning as a side effect of their migraine treatments. Teachers may notice these side effects before parents. If this occurs, communication between teachers and parents is vital. There may be alternate treatments available or special education services that can be utilized to help the student succeed.
Elementary & Secondary Schools
- Turn off the lights and open the blinds. Natural lighting is easier on the eyes and isn’t as likely to trigger migraine attacks.
- Implement a fragrance-free policy for staff and students. Make a special effort to use unscented school supplies and limit the use of cleaning products with strong fumes during the school day.
- Offer students a quiet, dark room with comfortable place to lie down to recover from a migraine attack
- Allow the use of wide-brimmed hats, sunglasses, or FL-41 tinted glasses
- Allow the use of noise-cancelling headphones or earplugs to protect against sound sensitivity.
- Offer alternate seating (may move to a sofa or bean bag versus desk/chair when needed) to students during an attack.
- Allow the use of hot/cold packs, BeKool strips, water, peppermint, ginger, emesis bags, etc.
- Permit flexible assignment due dates to accommodate after-school migraine attacks that interfere with homework completion.
- Work with students, parents, and physicians to permit safe, quick access to medications and medical devices as prescribed by their doctor.
- Offer similar accommodations as elementary schools, plus a few extra
- Flexible attendance requirements
- Note-taking service for missed lectures
- Alternative learning environments (online, video conference, etc.)
Students with migraine can have educational success. Most will do so with very few accommodations. Developing an understanding of their special needs is important to help them succeed.