Living with Chronic Pain

Tips for Securing School Accommodations for Students With Chronic Pain


Chronic pain can have a severe impact on the functioning level of a student. They may also experience various access barriers in the learning environment. Chronic pain can cause difficulty concentrating, the need for a quiet space, additional or longer bathroom breaks, the inability to carry textbooks, a necessity for periodic snacks, the incapability to maneuver stairs, etc.

School accommodations should be considered for students with chronic pain to provide a full and equitable learning experience. Unfortunately, obtaining these accommodations is not always simple. Below are tips on how to request student accommodations in the United States and Canada.

What are accommodations?

In the United States, a “reasonable accommodation” is defined as a modification to the environment, standard procedure, or tasks assigned that allows disabled students the same opportunity to participate in their education without causing undue hardship to the institution. In Canada, an “appropriate accommodation” will respect the dignity of a disabled student, meet their individual needs, promote their full inclusion and participation, and ensure maximum confidentiality.

How to request accommodations?

In certain situations, a health care provider's note stating the student’s needs is sufficient. However, since chronic pain symptoms are often complex and long-term, it may be beneficial to participate in the school’s Individualized Education Program in the United States or Individual Education Plan in Canada. This helps to ensure that the student has long-term access to the accommodations they require.

Individualized Education Program (United States)

The IEP program allows teachers, guardians, school administrators, and the student to coordinate and discuss specific needs in a learning environment. The student is evaluated for eligibility, and, if eligible, a meeting is scheduled with the school system, caregivers, and other important figures regarding the student’s health and disability. During this meeting, the student’s IEP is established. An IEP is updated regularly and shared with the caregivers.

Individual Education Plan (Canada)

In Canada, an IEP can be suggested for two reasons: the student is an “exceptional pupil” that requires a “special education” program, or the student requires “special education” services. After being identified as requiring an IEP, the plan is constructed and updated regularly based on the student’s progress.

Tips for requesting an IEP

Certain tips can help when requesting an IEP. They include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • The IEP process can be lengthy and may involve a lot of coordination between the student, health care provider, caregiver, teachers, and school administration. Requesting an IEP before the school year begins can help ensure that the process goes smoothly and is in place when needed. This also helps to avoid undue stress that may be placed on the student due to schedule changes.
  • Make sure to coordinate with those outside the school that are expected to attend. This could include an evaluator, provider, friend, advocate or relative. Notify the school of who is planning to attend.
  • Ask for a blank copy of an IEP form ahead of time. Prepare and write down any questions, concerns or statements prior to the meeting.
  • If unfamiliar with the process, ask other parents who have been through the process about the experience. It may be possible to connect to other parents through different social media groups or support groups.
  • Make a list of important issues. If possible, try to have questions answered before the meeting so that the time can be focused on developing the IEP.
  • Ask for the school to provide evaluations, goals, objectives, and placement recommendations before the meeting. Always stay informed with the details.
  • Include the student when discussing the IEP. This includes what it is, what it means, and answers to any questions they may have. Ask for their input regarding needs, strengths, barriers, preferences, and learning styles.

Additional sources: Ontario Human Rights Commission, Special Interest Group on Pain in Childhood: International Association for the Study of Pain, U.S. Department of Education, and Smart Kids with Learning Disabilities

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