You and your family should be aware that having spondylitis may affect your school life. Work with your parents and teachers to help plan appropriate educational goals and activities with a focus of maintaining as normal a routine as possible.
Note that some medications may cause side effects that may create a feeling of "fuzziness" that might interfere with your ability to concentrate. Teachers may be helpful in watching for side effects of medication. You should notify your physician if this occurs so the physician can come up with medication that will not impair your school performance.
We asked teens Katlin, Tyler and Brian some questions about their experiences and tips for school and this is what they said:
Is there anything about school that you feel is more difficult because of spondylitis?
- Tyler: I have to do lots of walking at my high school. The student parking lot is about 1/4 mile from my classes. I had my doctor sign a DMV form for a temporary 6-month "Disabled Placard" (Handicap pass) I can use to park closer to school on days when I'm in lots of pain.
- Brian: Walking around school when I am in pain. Carrying books (I didn't know you can get another set of books until recently.)
- Katlin: Sitting in class for extended periods of time, backpacks/books, and lower lockers. The medicine that I perform best with causes me to be drowsy in class, and can sometimes make me fall asleep.
- Christine: Gym - Sometimes the class has to run eight times (2 miles) around the track instead of 4 times (1 mile). I get to walk now, but that is still a struggle. It's easier to walk than run, but it still hurts.
Does having spondylitis affect your ability to sit in the classroom for long periods of time?
- Tyler: Some classes are interactive and hands-on, so there's lots of movement during the class period. Other classes are more lecture-style, where you sit and take notes the entire period. That's where stiffness can set in.
- Christine: It's really hard to get comfortable when I sit for a long time, but when I get up, it's usually worse.
- Brian: Oh yes. It sucks so much, I can't sit still because I'm in so much pain, and I always have to stretch my legs. Its so frustrating dealing with all of this pain for just sitting in class.
- Katlin: Definitely, some days I will have no problem when I take my medication, but others I get very stiff and am sore once class is over.
Are your teachers aware that you have spondylitis? Is that helpful?
- Tyler: Only my high school swim coach knows I have spondylitis. I had to tell him last season, when I was going through a painful winter and I missed 3 swim meets in a row. He didn't quite know what to make of my situation, but he was supportive overall. Missing those meets cost me a spot on the "A" relay team that I never got back. But at the end of the season at CIF championships, I broke the school record in 100 butterfly for the second year in a row. It was sweet.
- Brian: Yes they do know and I will let all my teachers know that I have AS. It helps a lot because when I'm in pain they are lenient on me if I'm late for class.
- Katlin: My parents gave the school a note from the doctor, however teachers can be forgetful, or they have no idea what it is or what my needs may be (for instance why I might be falling asleep).
What is your favorite part of school?
- Tyler: I have good friends who make me laugh and I've had a few amazing teachers who have impacted my life.
- Brian: Hanging with my friends, just school in general.
- Katlin: I enjoy my science classes, and play water polo and swim everyday.
Do you have a lot of absences due to the spondylitis? How does the school handle this?
- Tyler: My high school doesn't care how much school I miss. Neither do my teachers. They're happy to give me incompletes and F's on quizzes or tests I've missed. It's up to me to stay on top of assignments and make up tests. I email my teachers when I've missed a lot of school and ask them to email assignments to me or leave them in the office for me to pick up. That usually works out pretty well.
- Brian: Oh yes I do, this past year has been difficult, I looked at my absences and I missed my Spanish class 16 times in 30 days. The school does know about my disease so they are very nice about it.
- Katlin: Yes, and there is a trend. In first period I had 16 absences, in sixth period, I had only one. This was due to the fact that I am so stiff and sore in the mornings. Some days, if I am really sore, I have to stretch longer and take a longer shower. However, there are days when I have a sore back and sore hips, but I have never missed a high school water polo or swim practice in two years.
Are there any other tips you can share?
- Extra set of books - Schools are supposed to provide an extra set of textbooks free to students with disabilities like spondylitis, but my high school hasn't yet, so I look for used textbooks online at Amazon.com. Sometimes you can find great deals. I once found a used English textbook for $4, which is less than the $5 it cost me for shipping. (See Special Accommodations in School for more information.)
- Communication with your teachers is always important, because sometime it is necessary for them to understand that you are experiencing pain or have doctor's appointments and may need to be absent from class.