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Sickle Cell Disease: Tips to Help Teachers Support Students with the Condition

Supporting Students with SCD

No one wants their kid with sickle cell disease to develop frequent pain episodes, especially for avoidable reasons. However, pain crises are a common health problem among SCD patients. Without enough SCD management education given to teachers, nurses and administrators, students will suffer from preventable pain episodes and other health complications.

Below are tips schools can implement to support SCD students:

1.     Allow enough access to drinking water

Many people underestimate the health benefits of hydration in general. Hydration is even more important to people with SCD because it prevents many health problems, including pain crises. That’s why schools need to have unlimited water supply during every school day. Frequent but small amounts of water or fluid are better. Thus, schools can allow access to a bottle of water in class.

2.     Guard against extreme temperatures and conditions.

To protect students with SCD from cold or hot weather, which can trigger pain episodes, school policies should restrict them from being in locations with extreme temperatures. Good examples are: under AC vents and directly in front of fans. Permit layered clothing and jackets when it’s cold.

3.     Introduce a special pass for frequent bathroom breaks

Frequent bathroom breaks are necessary because children with SCD often release large amounts of dilute urine even after hydration. So, schools need to relax bathroom break restrictions for students with SCD by giving them a special bathroom pass. This type of pass limits the usual disruption and distraction students usually provoke when they ask for permission to exit the classroom.

4.     Learn about the special care needed for injuries

Know that applying a cold pack to an injury on someone with SCD is an absolute NO! For other students, standard first aid measures are generally safe. Good examples of measured first aid measures teachers can administer on children with SCD include applying direct pressure in case of bleeding, ace bandage wrapping and elevating a hurt limb. For severe injuries, call for a medical emergency.

4. Create less strenuous roles during physical education
and recess activities

Participating even in moderate exercise such as swimming, running, jumping and bike riding can be unsafe for many people with SCD. To remedy this, teachers may modify curricula to allow such students to participate in physical education in less strenuous roles such as “assistant,” scorekeeper,” or “umpire.” Teachers should ask parents of these kids the level of activity their children can tolerate and incorporate frequent water breaks and extra layers of clothing against cold and vice versa.

5.      Watch out for signs of stroke

Many children with SCD develop stroke early on in their school years. This may render learning difficult for them due to the blockage of brain blood vessels, which may cause brain damage.

The unfortunate thing is, strokes that affect a small portion of the brain may be difficult to detect.  Teachers should look for possible signs of stroke in children. They include academic decline, attention deficit, mild delays in vocabulary development and difficulties with organization. Teachers should notify doctors for formal neurocognitive and educational testing when they notice such changes.

6. Schools should maintain open communication with parents
It’s fundamental for teachers to maintain regular contact and open communication with parents of students with SCD or other chronic diseases. This can take the form of phone calls, notes, e-mail, or conferences to talk about the student’s performance and well-being both in school and at home.

Sickle cell disease is a chronic disease whose complications can be deadly if managed poorly. No wonder schools need these tips to handle students with SCD better and minimize pain episodes and improve academic and other performances. Most importantly, an excellent rapport among teachers, nurses, doctors and parents of children with SCD is fundamental.


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