Talking to your school about chronic pain
It is important to communicate with your school. Let them know you have pain, how it is being treated and how it could affect your schooling. You can do this through meetings with your teachers or professors, by letter or by email.
Do I need to tell my teachers, academic advisors or professors about my pain?
Yes, it's important to tell others about your medical condition if it's likely to affect your attendance or performance at school, college or university. Telling your school about your pain can help you at school for a number of reasons. You may need to miss classes to go to appointments or rest when you are not feeling well. Your teachers or professors will need to know about any absences.
You may need to ask your teachers or professors to give you work that you can do at home so that you can keep up with coursework during your pain treatment. You may also need to adjust how much coursework you can do. You may need to provide a letter or document from your healthcare team to verify that you have chronic pain. Talk to your doctor, nurse or psychologist if you need this type of document.
Services that can help you
Schools and universities have dedicated staff to help people with medical problems and other special needs. Be sure to communicate with them before the start of the school year and regularly during the year to keep them updated about anything you need. You might consider putting these staff in touch with your teachers or professors or arranging to meet everyone together so they can all understand your health and school needs.
It may also be helpful to have an advocate who can help you balance your workload between different classes. For instance, if you’re still in school, a guidance counsellor can help with communication so you do not have to advocate for yourself with all your different teachers.
Sharing information as a high school student
Depending on how your pain and its treatment affect you, you might need to have an individual education or learning plan in place. An individual learning plan is a written plan describing the special education program or services that you might need at school. Many people with chronic pain (and other chronic illnesses) have an individual learning plan. These plans identify what changes are needed for your grade level and subjects or courses (for example gym class). They also outline any accommodations and special education services you need to assist you in your learning. Here are some examples of accommodations.
Having extra time to complete classroom assignments
Recording lessons so you can review them later, having handouts of notes or getting copies of the teacher’s notes
Having an extra set of books so you don’t need to carry them to and from school
Having the services of a scribe – a person who writes for you when you can’t
The learning plan is written with input from your teacher, your school’s principal and resource teacher, you and any other specialists who help with your pain. The fact that you may need an individual learning plan at school does not interfere with your ability to go to college or university.
Individual education or learning plans vary by province and may have different names. Find out about the plans that are available where you live. Some examples of accommodation letters can be found below.
Examples of accommodation letters
Sharing information as a college or university student
Most post-secondary schools have a dedicated accessibility office for students who have medical conditions, including chronic pain. This office is designed to help you reach your academic potential. Staff there can suggest accommodations such as adjustments to your coursework, a note-taking program and changes to your exam administration.
These accessibility services are generally well advertised on the university’s website. Even if you feel like you won’t have issues, it’s good to contact accessibility services as early as possible in case you have difficulty later in the term. Though it is very helpful to register with you school’s accessibility office before the semester starts, you can still seek their help at any time in the academic year.
Once you get in touch with accessibility services, you should also consider talking to your professors early in the term about any accommodations you may need. There are a lot of benefits to taking a pro-active approach: it is less stressful to have that conversation before you start having difficulty and have to miss classes.
Although these services might sound like they are for people with learning challenges, they are also for individuals with chronic health conditions that might affect their learning. Don’t be embarrassed about seeking out their help.