Secondary school has its challenges for any student and it can be harder for people with CF. Looking after yourself can take more time and effort than for people who don’t have a long term health condition. From time to time you may have less energy than your friends and less energy means that keeping up with school work, sports and having fun can be tricky.
There will be other students at your school with a variety of health conditions so you won’t be the only person having to balance daily treatment with school work but sometimes it might feel like you are the only one.
Just as CF affects you differently compared to other people who have CF, your experience of secondary school will also be different from that of others.
Telling your teachers about your CF
You’re in charge of what information is known and shared about you and therefore it’s up to you whether you let you teachers know about your CF and how it affects you.
However, with more understanding about CF and your needs, teachers are in a much better position to help you and support you in the most effective way they can. If they understand the challenges you face then they can plan and work with you so you can have the best possible school experience.
You know so much about CF as you live with it every day – but many teachers will know little or nothing about it or what they know might be out of date with the information they do know. There are lots of good reasons why it’s important to tell your school and teachers about CF. Firstly, because you will be bringing medication to school, so the school will need to know about that.
There’s other things the school can help you with if they know about your CF, like needing more regular toilet breaks or the risk of infection from other kids who have colds. Plus it helps for the school to be more informed so the can be understanding if you take unexpected time off, or if the time you spend on your treatments means that it’s hard to find time to finish your homework.
Decide whether to tell your friends and classmates about CF
In secondary school you will make new friends and meet new people. It’s up to you whether you tell them that you have CF, and when and how much you tell them. Everyone has a different idea about if and when to tell friends and classmates that they have CF. There is no right or wrong decision. It can be hard to work out what you want to do.
Medication at school
Hopefully your school allows you to have your medication with you. It will be much easier for you to have all your medications handy so you can have them when you need to. If your school doesn’t want you to keep your medication, they will need educating about how important it is. If you don’t feel able to talk to your teachers or they don’t listen, your parents or your doctor might have to get involved.
Some people with CF are happy to have medication in front of other people while others are very worried or embarrassed – which is very common.
Keeping up with school work
Everyone gets sick and misses school sometimes. You might miss more school than your friends because of doctor’s appointments, medical tests or maybe even when you have to stay in hospital.
Even when you’re at school, you might not feel as well as your friends or have as much energy and time to do all of your school work and extracurricular activities. Here are some ideas that might help you stay on top of your work or catch up if you are falling behind.
- Start on homework and assignments as soon as you get them and study early for exams. Don’t put off getting started. Keeping on top of work can help you avoid feeling anxious.
- Keep taking good care of your health.
- Be creative with school attendance. Perhaps you can have some half days or go to school every second day for a while. These options give you more time for sleep and treatment but you can still go to some classes and see your friends.
- Talk to your teachers. Remember they are there to support you but may not always know you need help – so talk to them and tell them!
- Be proactive and ask for help early on. If you have a lot of work to catch up with, ask them to help you work out which parts are essential to
- For times when you are away in hospital or unwell, work out strategies so you can keep in touch with each teacher and with school work. Ask them to send you the work that it is important for you to do.
- Use technology such as Skype, email, recording of lessons, digital resources, photos of board work etc to keep you in touch with what is happening in class.
- Talk to your friends and see if they can help you by taking notes, emailing you resources, having study sessions together or anything else that will help you.
- If you are in hospital and you feel well enough, take advantage of the hospital teachers and the facilities.
Usually there’s a requirement to fill out a medical care plan where you outline what care and medication you will need when at school. You may need to update the medical plan annually. A School Health Plan is available from the CFSmart website.
The school/teacher’s responsibilities are to:
- Ensure you are taking the required medication and food/snacks
- Ensure quick and easy access to the toilet is provided if needed
- Provide catch up work if you are absent
- Be aware of any changes e.g. symptoms of dehydration, tired, on the toilet more often
- Promote good hygiene and infection control practices.
Your responsibilities are to:
- Provide the teacher with the medications required to be taken at school.
- Provide the teacher with clear information about medications (how, when, storage, any side effects).
- Inform teacher of any additional medications required during the year.
- Inform the school/teacher of hospital, clinic appointments or other absences.
- Inform the teacher if there are any changes to your health.
Things to discuss with your teacher:
- Symptoms that might impact while at school e.g. coughing, tired, wind, toilet habits, dehydrated easily, anxiety?
- Enzymes: Where will they be stored e.g. in your child’s lunchbox, with the teacher? What sort of system will you use to communicate with the teacher about how many are needed for snacks and lunch?
The cystic fibrosis diet
Schools will generally support a high fat CF diet once they understand why it’s required. Ask the teacher to make reference to the CF diet if the class is learning about healthy eating (as this can sometimes cause confusion for children with CF on a high calorie diet).
Remind the teacher that you will need regular water (or cordial/salty drinks in summer) and may need to take salt tablets or liquid while at school. The teacher and teacher assistants need to be aware of the signs of dehydration.
Ask the school what infection control practices they have, for example:
- Paper towel and liquid soap
- Access to hand gel
- Regular and ongoing education for the students about good hand washing practices
- A school policy on unwell children coming to school
- Notes home to parents about sick children coming to school
- Discussing the importance of keeping unwell children at home
- Discuss with the teacher if there are any stagnant water areas. Discuss your thoughts on fish ponds, water play, water fountains and gardening.
It’s a good idea to make the school aware of cross infection issues in case there is another person at the school who has CF. This is rare but it does happen.
It is not advisable for kids with CF to be in the same class as each other, but if one child is in Year 7 and the other in Year 12 then the risk can be managed, if they not likely to cross paths.
For more information
- Questions to consider when choosing a high school (CF Community Care)
- Handy tips for your child starting secondary school (CF Community Care)
- Free online programs to help with school and homework (CF Community Care)
- Keeping up with your school work (CF Community Care)
- Do you want to tell your teachers about your CF? (CF Community Care)
- Should I tell my friends about my CF? (CF Community Care)
- CF Diet – Talking to your friends (CF Community Care)
- Ideas of what to say to your teacher when you are away from school (CF Community Care)
- Starting high school with CF booklet (CF Western Australia)
- Student health support plan (CFSmart)
- Sample letter to parents about reducing the spread of germs (CFSmart)
- Cross-infection at school (CF Western Australia)
- Infection control in schools (CF Western Australia)
- Tips and ideas for secondary school students with CF (PDF download)
- Starting secondary school (Cystic Fibrosis Trust UK)
- CFSmart (CF Community Care’s cystic fibrosis education program website)