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Kids and Narcolepsy: How to Manage School

Medically Reviewed by Neha Pathak, MD on July 07, 2021

School can pose special challenges for children with narcolepsy. But your student can succeed with the right changes to their routine and support from their doctor, teachers, and school staff. Learn about the steps you can take to set your child up for success.

Work With Teachers

Ask your child’s doctor to write a note to teachers and other school staff, like counselors and the school nurse. The note should explain what narcolepsy is and how it affects your child’s schoolwork. Your doctor should give detailed instructions about any medications your son or daughter must take during the school day.

Narcolepsy can make it hard for kids to stay awake during class, pay attention for long periods, and finish homework. Teachers often notice these problems. Check in with your child’s teachers regularly about what they’ve seen in class. The school nurse can keep parents and doctors updated, too.

Special Education Plans

Kids with narcolepsy have different needs in order to succeed in school. You can make a formal plan to arrange for the right accommodations for your child.

There are two types of special education plans: 504 plans and individualized education programs (IEPs).

504 plans:

  • Get their name from Section 504 of the U.S. Rehabilitation Act of 1973 to help students with disabilities in public schools or publicly funded private schools
  • Aim to help students do well in regular classrooms, with the support of their teacher

IEPs:

  • Are for students eligible under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
  • Often cover kids who receive services in a special education classroom, managed by school support staff

Talk to your child’s principal or school counselor about developing a special education plan if you feel narcolepsy is impacting their learning. The principal will work with you, your child’s teachers, and other staff -- like the school nurse, psychologists or social workers -- to decide what accommodations will help.

Helpful Accommodations

There’s no set menu of accommodations that a child with narcolepsy can get. You, your child, the doctor, and school can decide what will help. Some parents ask for:

Activity during class. It can help to stand up, walk around, or get a drink. Chewing gum, sitting in the front row, and asking questions can all keep your student engaged.

Nap breaks. A 15- to 20-minute nap during the school day could help your child stay alert the rest of the day. Ask administrators about the best place for this. The nurse’s office might be a good option.

Extra time for tests or a short break during tests. Extra time or short breaks may help your student maintain focus.

Audio versions of textbooks or recordings of lectures. Students with narcolepsy may lose focus during long reading assignments or lectures.

Help with notes. Teachers can share class notes or slides. In some cases, another person may serve as a notetaker for children with special needs.

Special test scheduling. If there are times of day when excessive sleepiness is worse or when sleep attacks most often occur, you can request that tests take place outside of this time.

Helpful Habits Outside of School

Your child’s routine outside of school can also help improve school performance. The following are important parts of that routine.

A fixed sleep schedule. Your child should go to bed and get up at the same time every day, including weekends. This makes it easier to fall asleep and wake up. Make sure that this time frame for sleep allows for enough rest. Kids 5 to 12 years old should sleep 10 to 11 hours a night. Teenagers should get 8.5 to 9.5 hours.

Scheduled naps. A nap after school and before sports practice or club meetings can help give your child some extra energy. But don’t overschedule extracurriculars at the cost of sufficient sleep.

Regular exercise. Physical activity can give your child a boost of alertness before studying. It may also help them sleep better at night.

Routine check-ins with the doctor. Treatment plans for narcolepsy may need changes and updates from time to time. Check in with the doctor regularly to make sure your child is on the best medication, dose, and schedule.

Show Sources

SOURCES:
Harvard Medical School Division of Sleep Medicine: “Living with Narcolepsy: At School.”

American Sleep Association: “Narcolepsy in Children and Teenagers.”

KidsHealth/Nemours: “504 Education Plans.”

Wake Up Narcolepsy: “504 vs. IEP: What Does Your Child Need?”

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