Until Caitlin,* age 15, was diagnosed with MS last year, she thought it was an "older person's disease." Although she was glad to finally have an explanation for her symptoms, she also found it hard to cope with MS, especially at school.
After her diagnosis, Caitlin's grades started to fall because of fatigue and difficulty concentrating. She felt embarrassed in gym class because she was not as coordinated as other students. And to make matters worse, a fellow student accused her of faking her problems since she "looked just fine." Plus, she felt that no one understood what she was going through because MS is so uncommon in young people.
Caitlin turned to her family, friends, and her local MS society for support. She joined a support group for young people with MS, and met others who were going through the same things. Together, they learned new ways to cope.
Before school started that fall, Caitlin decided to make a fresh start. She told her closest friends about her MS and arranged to give a presentation on MS at her school so other students would understand about the condition. Along with her parents, she also spoke to her teachers about accommodations that could be made during the school day. Accommodations are changes that a teacher can make to allow people with disabilities to participate in a regular class. For example, she arranged to reschedule tests when she wasn't feeling well, to take her tests in a quiet room to help her concentrate, and to change some of the activities in her gym class so she could do them more easily.
Together with her family, Caitlin organized her time at home to minimize her back-to-school stress. A week before school started, Caitlin got back onto "school time," getting up and going to bed at the same times that she would during the school year. The night before school, she planned out her outfit for the next day and got her lunch ready so she'd feel less stressed in the morning.
Because she often came home exhausted, Caitlin took time for an after-school nap. She scheduled her homework for when she felt most rested and mentally alert. As well, she got in touch with her school friends ahead of time to make sure she'd have someone to hang out with at school.
Caitlin found other ways to relieve back-to-school stress too. She made time every day for the things she enjoyed, like talking to friends on the phone. She also tried to get a bit of physical activity every day to keep herself active and relieve stress.
What can we learn from Caitlin's story? Finding support from others with MS, getting friends and family involved, settling into a routine, and finding time to enjoy life can all make back-to-school time easier.
* The stories in this health feature are hypothetical patient stories based on the combined experiences of a variety of different people with MS.
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