(Below is Part 1 of a four-part series on chronic pain in high school and college. It was penned by a college student who has dealt with chronic pain throughout her academic career. The four-part series will cover four important aspects of college life – Academics, Dating, Employment and Social Life. Here’s Part 1 on how Chronic Pain can make studying for exams and getting good grades even more of a challenge.)
What can I say, chronic pain sucks sometimes. That said you can still live an “almost normal” life as a young adult with chronic pain. Personally, I’ve been dealing with chronic pain in my neck and back since 2008 when I had my first of four back surgeries to correct my severe scoliosis. Over the last almost eight years, I’ve grown into a young adult, and I am attending college to obtain an engineering degree while dealing with a plenitude of medical appointments in addition to trying to enjoy college and life in general. I intend on addressing the following topics of concern among young adults with pain—getting through school (high school, college, technical training, etc.), working and keeping a job, having a significant other, and day-to-day life enjoyment.
Chronic Pain and College Grades
Having any medical condition that can affect class attendance and performance can be difficult and daunting for many as they think about pursuing higher education. Throughout grade school, middle school, and high school your parents can work with the health office to create a 504 plan in order to address your needs. I found it helpful to have a second set of textbooks so I could keep a set in my locker and a set at home so I wouldn’t have to carry a heavy backpack. If your pain causes problems during exams you may want to look into extra time or extended breaks for exams to be added to your 504 plan. While many teachers at the high school level will allow you the time needed to finish an exam, if this could affect standardized tests such as ACT/SAT and others, you will need 504 documentation in order to apply for these accommodations on standardized tests.
If you are in the process of touring colleges or looking up universities and know you have chronic pain, look into the resources the school offers for “students with disabilities.” At my university, we have a “Services for Students with Disabilities Office” that helps everyone with anything from a temporarily broken arm, to ADHD and chronic pain. Personally, I’ve found the office very helpful in providing documentation to professors and needed accommodations.
Some helpful things to consider as you begin college while dealing with chronic pain include:
- Getting notes from the professor or using a scribe to take notes for you in class.
- Talking with your teacher at the beginning of the semester about the possibility of getting extra time for assignments & excused class absences in the event you have a pain flair.
- Extra time or stretch breaks during classes and exams.
- Desk/chair accommodations for classrooms (such as a standing desk or a more comfortable chair).
- Book scanning services (to have a digital version of textbooks to reduce backpack weight).
- Look into scholarships to purchase an iPad (light-weight computer alternative).
After looking into a combination of the above-mentioned accommodations, I find myself much more easily able to meet the academic demands at a top university. Being proactive about your chronic pain from the moment you step foot on campus will help prepare you for an inevitable flare up, will help professors learn of potential issues before a problem arises (this is key), and help prevent symptoms from worsening. It’s not easy, and you’ve got enough on your plate as a new college student, but it’s crucial to be proactive.
Part 2 will be published on Wednesday.