If you have been diagnosed with MS while you are still at school, you may be unsure how it will affect your education.
Support is available for you and your parents, and we have some ideas for ways to help you manage stress and MS symptoms at school.
You may have been diagnosed with MS while you're still at school. You may be wondering if you will need time off for appointments or if you have a relapse. You may be thinking about whether your symptoms will make it harder to do your school work.
Although having MS may require some adjustment from you and your school, you should be able to get a good education and enjoy school life as much as any other child.
Coping with the day
A day in school or college can be tiring, even if you don't have MS. There might be limited opportunity to rest, and you may have to move around a large building or campus to get from class to class. On a good day, your MS might make no difference to you at all. You can attend all your lessons, join in with P.E. or clubs, and complete your homework assignments on time.
On a less good day, you might find it hard to concentrate, or have problems with fatigue, odd sensations or weakness. You may need to explain that you can't manage P.E. lessons on a hot day, or that you might need more time to complete your work. You may also find getting to the school or college site more challenging.
These videos, from our MSTV Youtube channel for young people affected by MS, offer some advice for dealing with fatigue and problems with thinking. In general, getting plenty of rest, drinking enough water, eating a balanced diet and staying organised will help. Exercising when you feel well will help you feel more alert.
In the run up to exams or other stressful times, try to take good care of your mental and physical health. Learning stress management and relaxation skills will help you to deal with tougher times when they come along. Pace yourself, try to get plenty of sleep, and make sure you have all the support around you that you need to do your best.
Telling friends about MS
You might feel embarrassed about your MS diagnosis, or feel that you would rather keep it a secret and not draw attention to yourself. That is absolutely your choice, but do consider that your friends and classmates may be worried about you, and could potentially be a great source of support. You may feel relieved if it is all out in the open. That way, everyone can get used to your MS, and it stops being a big deal.
One girl with MS recently organised an assembly to teach her primary school all about MS and how it affects her. With help from her teachers, she showed some of the videos from MSTV, talked a little bit about her own MS symptoms, and organised a cake sale to raise money for the MS Trust. Now the whole school knows the real facts about MS, and know that their friend might have to rest, stay cool or have time off for appointments occasionally, but is otherwise absolutely fine.
Support from your school
MS may not affect your studying but you and your parents will need to talk about your diagnosis to the Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENCO) or Inclusion Officer at your school. You might like to have a chat with your parents about what might make it easier for you at school now that you know what is causing your symptoms. For example, if you have problems concentrating, you may be allowed extra time in exams or be given a classroom assistant to help take notes in lessons.
Just like adults at work, your school should be able to make reasonable adjustments to help you. Positioning your desk near a fan so you stay cool, or letting you go to the toilet when you need to are simple things that will keep you comfortable. In a large school where you might see many different teachers or assistants in a week, you might like to create a card explaining your main requirements, so you can discretely show the teacher if they are unsure what they need to do to help you.
The school should talk to you and your parents about whether you need support and what would work best before anything is finally decided. There are charities which can help you and your parents. Disability Rights UK and the Council for Disabled Children have information about Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) support.
Support at college or university
MS may not affect your studying or your life at college or university. However, it could affect your attendance especially if you need time off for appointments or during a relapses. Also, some symptoms may make it more difficult to complete work promptly so you may be allowed extra time. Some people find that studying part-time works best.
If you're already in further or higher education, you will need to consider telling your course provider about your diagnosis. Most higher education centres have good support and can give you access to disability coordinators and, sometimes, additional financial help. Your college or university website should have information about what's available locally, usually in the section for disabled students.
The UCAS website (Universities and College Admissions Service) has information which will help you think through your options. UCAS can point you to sources of funding and suggest how your university or college can support you.
The UK government offers financial help to students with a disability. This is not a loan, and you will not need to repay it. Although you may not like the label, having a multiple sclerosis diagnosis does give you access to this funding. You can find more information about the Disabled Student Allowance (DSA) on the government website.
The National Union of Students (NUS) has an officer responsible for students with all kinds of disabilities. The NUS Disabled Students' Campaign aims to remove the stigma from all disabilities, challenge perceptions and encourage all members of our society to take a positive attitude towards understanding the nature of disability and overcoming prejudices.