Saved By The Bell: School and Migraine
Educators in K-12 already do so much for children beyond the classroom, from affirming kids’ hopes and desires, to sometimes counseling and even providing basic necessities like breakfast and lunch, teachers, school nurses, counselors and bus drivers are caretakers for many, many children almost year-round. These heroes help to build and raise kids in ways that can’t be represented through test scores and standardized assessments, and they deserve always gratitude and thanks for all they do in my opinion.
Helping schools understand migraine
I find myself in awe of the it-takes-a-village-like mindset that permeates the stories I hear about amazing educators and other staff who work in schools, and I couldn’t begin to imagine the kind of investment and stamina it takes to be one of the folks nurturing so many of tomorrow’s leaders. Still, acknowledging the great work that educators and all of the folks who work in schools do daily, I think there are tools and language that need more widespread adoption and implementation to help primary and secondary education institutions serve students with chronic illnesses and disabilities, especially migraine, better.
Growing up in pain
Even though I have not worked in a school and don’t know what it is like to work in one, I was once a kid navigating K-12 with migraine disease, and I remember how difficult it was being in pain, being misunderstood, and being at times neglected while in school because I did not have the language or tools to advocate for myself until I was in college. If I knew then what I know now, I think I would have had an easier time talking to the adults in my life about the symptoms I experienced, as well as have been a better student.
It's important to validate children's pain
More pertinently, I think if the adults in my life knew then what I know now, I would have been better supported. That isn’t to say that they weren’t trying their best, but I think many of the adults in my life just didn’t know much about childhood migraines or how to help and support me. Now, in my mid-to-late twenties and upon a lot of reflection, I think it is so important to equip everyone in a child with migraine’s life with tools to navigate the disease together. To me, this means validating the experiences of pain kids tell us about and giving them understandable language to describe it --- (I used to say when I was little ‘I feel sick’ or ‘My head hurts’, but it wasn’t clear what I was dealing with to many around me) and includes broadening the skill set of adults to recognize that language and those experiences.
Education for educators
One system-wide approach to handling better engagement with children who live with migraine disease is to have broader education campaigns targeted at school systems. Is it common knowledge within our schools that children are more likely to have abdominal migraine and may not experience head pain at all? It should be! Increased education for folks working in schools, like how to talk to children who report possible migraine symptoms, and sensitivity training's on believing children can help kids learn to advocate for themselves, and can help the adults in their lives provide the kind of care they really need.
Getting parents and teachers to speak up about migraine
This education, in my opinion, should come from many different purview's. Parents can be advocates and educators, as well as teachers who live with migraines. So can advertising agencies and high-profile legislators and local city activists. It will take all of us working together to increase education around childhood migraine, and the more regularly folks are talking about it, the better care we can all work to provide for our youth. Here are some resources and educational materials about childhood migraine, to start:
In my state, it is fairly accessible to talk directly to local and state legislators. I have been to my state capitol a handful of times on my own and with organized groups to talk about various issues that are important to me, and getting a direct face-to-face conversation involved only a few steps: getting to the capitol, filling out a constituent card, and calling elected leaders to the ropes. How do we get folks who make decisions about our schools to learn more about migraine? We talk to them!
Small yet powerful ways to spread the word on migraine
There are events like Headache on the Hill, where migraine patients and advocates come together to lobby our leaders, who work for us, to support migraine research and advocacy. Who are leaders in your state that serve on House education committees? Who are the local reps on your child’s school system’s Board of Education? Knowing these folks, and just talking to them about experiences and providing ideas on how we can inform more folks about migraine is a great way to get into advocacy. Organizing a small group of parents and teachers to go to your state capital to talk about childhood migraines is an awesome activity, and doesn’t have to be bells and whistles. We don’t have to have the answers either, simply spreading the dialogue can go a long way!
One of the best advocates a child can have in school is a parent or guardian who sees them outside of school. Sometimes teachers, counselors, bus drivers, and school administrators just don’t see what is going on with a child because they don’t share the same kind of space as a parent, sibling or guardian. Talking with the adults at your child’s school about migraine can help direct their attention to what may be happening with them at school.
Do you have tips or ideas that could help broaden the knowledge and support kids get at school? Let’s discuss in the comments!
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