6 Tips for Heading Back to School with Migraine

Written by Lorene Alba | August 30, 2023

It’s that time of year again! Students are heading back to school and it seems parents are scrambling to get their kids ready for the new school year. However, when your child lives with migraine, that scrambling can be challenging because there is so much more involved. 

In this video, Dr. Thomas Berk, certified headache specialist and medical director of Neura Health, discusses how adolescents can best manage a migraine attack in and of out school. This video, together with the following six tips for students of all ages, will help you be better equipped to ensure that your child receives the support they need.  

1. Visit Your Child’s Doctor

The first step is to talk with your child’s medical team/doctor about the upcoming school year. Discuss any changes in symptoms, frequency, or medication side effects. Discuss possible triggers your child may be exposed to in school and how to best avoid or reduce exposure to them, and how to respond to an attack at school. Ask the medical team to help you create a migraine treatment plan that is personalized to your child, as well as a getting a doctor’s letter.  More information to help with this can be found at Migraine at School

2. Complete Necessary Paperwork

To ensure your child has access to their medications and reasonable accommodations during the school day, submit a 504 Plan or IEP.

  • A 504 plan is part of the Americans With Disabilities Act. This document ensures a student with a disability has the same access to instruction and curriculum as non-disabled students. It also states that all students should receive the same opportunity for academic success. 
  • An Individualized Education Program (IEP) is a part of the Federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). There are 14 categories of disability in which a child is eligible for an IEP and the modifications that come with it. Students with migraine, if eligible, typically fall within the category “Other Health Impairment.”

3. Ensure Access to Migraine Medications

Talk with the school nurse about medication and/or medical device access. Your child may be required to keep and take their medication or use their medical device in the nurse’s office, depending on the school’s policies. If it’s age appropriate, discuss letting your child self-carry and administer medications or a device as needed (again, this will depend on the school policies). Ask how a migraine attack would be handled by school staff, and protocols for physical education and off-campus events. A doctor’s letter will be needed to explain the treatments needed and what the student will need during a migraine attack.  However, you may also need to talk to each of your child’s teachers to make sure they understand the approved accommodations. 

4. Ask for Reasonable Accommodations

Girl with blonde hair in pony tail wearing a red shirt. She's sitting at a desk with a book on it and holding her head in her hands as if she is in pain.The goal is to not only have students in the classroom everyday, but to have them feeling well enough to be present and learn. This can be difficult when a child is experiencing any of the four stages of migraine, especially during the attack phase. Work with your child’s doctor and the school to find appropriate ways to help your child thrive at school despite living with migraine. Some accommodations often requested for migraine (preferably before the school year begins) include: 

  • Permission to self-carry and administer medications and/or a migraine device (if your child is old and mature enough to do so, and school policies allow that). If not, then permission to go to the nurse’s office as soon as an attack starts to use medication and/or a device 
  • A cool, dark place to lie down and hydrate when needed during an attack
  • Limited overhead, fluorescent lighting 
  • Permission to wear migraine glasses or sunglasses indoors
  • Fragrance-free classroom policies
  • Ability to use a migraine device at school
  • Extended time to take tests and turn in assignments 
  • Ability to take breaks from screens, especially during testing
  • Adding a blue-light filter to computer screens
  • Adjusted or being excused from PE and sports activities, especially outside on hot days or during attacks
  • Excused absences for doctor appointments and migraine attacks
  • Even sometimes… extra instruction at home during extended migraine attacks   

Along with working directly with the school nurse, you also may need to work with the school’s administrators and individual teachers to make sure everyone is aware of the agreed upon accommodations, and that they are a legal protection for your child. 

5. Check-In On Your Child 

Dr. Berk suggests asking your student about the following on a regular basis: 

  • How are things going for you in school?
  • What are some of the migraine triggers you have in school? 
  • What are the barriers to treating your migraine during the school day?  
  • What could be changed to help reduce or avoid triggers at school? 

Based on your child’s answers, their treatment plan may change throughout the school year. Do not hesitate to work with the school and your child’s doctor to modify accommodations. 

6. Encourage Lifestyle Modifications 

And last but not least, lifestyle modifications can be challenging, but they play a key role in helping managing migraine for your child. Don’t be afraid to set healthy guidelines for a sleep schedule on school nights. Ensure that they eat a healthy diet and avoid food or drink that are triggers for your child. Help them learn to manage stress through biofeedback, CBT and mindfulness. Talk to them about the important of taking their medications exactly as directed, and using a migraine device if one has been recommended by their doctor. Then again, check up on them regularly and talk to them about how they are doing! 

Let Us Know…

Do you have a child in school who has migraine? If so, what steps have you taken to help your child attend school as well as be able to thrive there? Have you ever formally asked for  accommodations, or created a 504 plan, and if so, which accommodations have been requested? 

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