Exams and Migraine – the three ‘R’s; Routine, Relax, Relations
It’s that time of year again, when the decisions about which subjects to choose for State Exams, and which courses to apply for are being made. Suffering from migraine is tough, but when you have to study, sit and pass exams that may help to determine your future (no pressure there!) then it can be ten times worse.
The State Exams
The Junior Certificate and the Leaving Certificate send shivers through many of us who have left school a hazy, distant memory, but don’t let that unnerve you; everyone feels some apprehension before going for any test be it a school exam or a blood test.
To allow for students with disabilities, the State Examinations Commission (SEC) has devised what are called Reasonable Accommodations (RACE). It’s hard enough going for the exams themselves without worrying about what your disorder is going to throw at you during them, so you can apply for these Reasonable Accommodations which will take your disability into account, take some of the pressure off and give you the same opportunity as everyone who doesn’t suffer.
The first step to take for students who suffer from migraine is to get a confirmation letter from your GP/Neurologist stating the fact that you have been diagnosed with migraine. Both the SEC and the school will need this to proceed to Reasonable Accommodations.
The following is official notification from the SEC on applying for Reasonable Accommodations along with their contact details.
Applying for Reasonable Accommodation
- If necessary these can include a request of a special centre within the school for the candidate to sit the examination on their own.
- You must have a letter from the student’s GP/consultant before approaching the State Examinations Commission.
- Please be aware that the student may apply to have a tape recorder to record answers if they are unable to write.
In the event that the student cannot sit the examination at the scheduled time they can sit later on that date provided they are supervised by a member of the school authority, have had no contact with other candidates or anyone who may have had sight of the question paper, or knowledge of its contents.
Any change to the scheduled start of an examination must have prior approval from the State Examinations Commission. Candidates may not, however, take an examination on a later date under any circumstances.
Should the student be alright on the day and have no need to avail of the special centre the Reasonable Accommodations Office should be notified. This can be done on the day and an email will suffice.
Phone: 090 644 2782
Fax: 090 644 2744
For more information see: https://www.examinations.ie/?l=en&mc=ca&sc=ra
You can download the late 2018 RACE form for the Leaving Cert here and the 2018 RACE for the Junior Cert here . The closing date for late applications for the 2018 exams is March 28th 2018, so contact the SEC soon. They do take things on a case by case basis and may grant you accommodations in your upcoming exams.
There are several things that the school can do to alleviate some of the burden of exam pressure for students with a disability before even approaching the State Examinations Commission. You can discuss these with the school prior to the exams, most schools are accommodating.
Accommodations that can be granted by School
The student should provide the school with a letter from their GP/neurologist stating that they suffer from migraine. The school may then authorise the following:
- Granting breaks or rest periods in each examination session that are warranted by the physical or medical condition of the candidate. Under this type of arrangement the time taken for rest or as a break may be compensated for at the close of each examination period to a maximum of 20 minutes.
- Taking of medicine, food or drinks into the examination centre where this is required for medical reasons.
- Allowing the candidate to move within the centre.
- Use of a special desk or chair used in the classroom.
- Use of low vision aids used normally in the classroom.
- Ensuring that a candidate with a hearing impairment is positioned close to the superintendent.
There may be other things individual schools and principals are prepared to do, but they must be discussed well in advance of the exams.
Parents can play a huge part in helping their son or daughter through the exams with the least amount of pressure and worry. When it comes to exam time, there are some simple things any parent can do or say to their child to ease the burden. The most important thing you can do for your child is to let them know that you support them regardless of the results of their exams.
- Stay calm and relaxed when talking about the exams. Be supportive and encouraging. Kids are excellent at detecting stress in their parents. Try to remember what you went through when you sat your own exams.
- Reduce your own stress levels if you can.
- Help them with their study. If they are having difficulty, try to break up their work into a more manageable schedule and don’t worry if a migraine or two causes them to miss an evening here or there. Smaller pieces of work are easier to catch up on.
- Watch for any changes in behaviour or any signs that the pressure may be getting too much. Try to help your child manage their stress levels and let them know that you are ready to listen and support them if they need you.
- Make sure that they stick to their normal routine as much as possible, this is particularly important for the migraine brain. Skipping meals to get in a little more study time, or staying up later than normal to study can do more harm than good when it combines with other triggers to bring the child over the migraine threshold to trigger an attack. Make sure they eat at the usual times, sleep at the usual times and get up at the usual times.
- Be realistic with your child. The exams are important yes, but they are not the be all and end all of life. Our lives are not defined by how well we do in an exam, if they were, then a lot of us would be in very serious trouble.
If you have any other tips as a parent, please feel free to share them on our Facebook page. Remember too that the Migraine Association would be happy to provide details and information to schools on how to help students who suffer from migraine and to explain that it is a complex neurological condition that affects over 100,000 children in Ireland alone, and, that it is far more than ‘just a headache’.
The above tips and others can be found on this leaflet from the [http://ISPCC http://www.ispcc.ie/uploads/files/dir373/dir18/18_0.php]ISPCC http://www.ispcc.ie/uploads/files/dir373/dir18/18_0.php
Teachers are very important for students who suffer from migraine. Teachers are there when parents are not and should be made fully aware of the child’s condition and how it manifests, especially coming up to exams. Over 100,000 children in Ireland suffer from migraine and it can manifest differently in a child than in an adult. Have a look at Migraine in Children for information, symptoms, tips, etc, or the teachers section of our website.
Additional pressure felt by the teacher, can lead to additional pressure on the students in their class and can have a drastic effect. Finding a way to keep yourself relaxed, if possible, is very important. Try something like mindfulness. Maybe even bring it into the classroom as an exercise. It may benefit the students as much as yourself and make the whole class feel much more relaxed coming up to exam time.
- Make yourself fully aware of students’ problems and disabilities, be encouraging to them and show them that they can get by as much as any other student. Watch for signs of stress, depression and anxiety.
- Make sure you know what to do in the case of a migraine attack. Watch for the symptoms. Be aware of the student’s need for medication and allow them to take it. Help them if necessary. Remove the student to a dark quiet room to reduce the severity of the attack. Sometimes a short sleep or a cold pack can help to get them back into the classroom quickly.
- Make sure someone stays with or near the student until the attack subsides, or if necessary call the parents and send the child home. If there is a school nurse, then make them aware of the situation.
- In class, keep your own stress levels to a minimum. Try not to let outside pressures affect you too much, children pick up on adult stress very easily. I know it’s easier said than done, but try to be as relaxed as possible.
- Let the students know that you are there to support them, that you are aware of any difficulties they have and that they can come to you should they need to.
- Allow for extra breaks in the class or during a study period, especially if they are in front of a computer screen for long intervals.
- Give a student who suffers from migraine a seat away from a window or a particularly bright area of the room. Migraine sufferers can be more sensitive to light than non-sufferers. Keep glare to a minimum and if necessary, close blinds a little to keep the sunshine out.
On the day of the exam:
If you are a teacher who happens to be supervising the sitting of the exam, then aside from bringing a good book to read…
- Make sure you’re aware of any accommodations the school has granted to a student and let the student know that it’s okay if they need to use these accommodations. They may be lucky and not need them on the day at all.
- Be prepared to let them take breaks and give them the added time if necessary. Have extra water nearby in case the student needs it. It’s very important for migraine sufferers to stay hydrated.
- If they need to have a short snack or to take medications, allow them the time to do this. Again have a look at any agreed or applied for accommodations with either the school or the SEC. They can make up this time at the end of the exam if necessary
Doing exams this year? It’s bad enough suffering from migraine without worrying that it will attack at exactly the wrong moment. This worry alone can trigger an attack, so hopefully our tips will help you to avoid this attack and others, then help you sail through your exams to get on with your exciting new life after school. For tips on reducing your stress during exams, have a look at the following links:
For additional advice and tips, see the ISPCC booklet
- Stay calm as much as possible. Organise your study time well in advance to help you to reduce your own stress. Make a revision timetable or schedule to suit you. Discuss this with your parents and teacher if you think they may be able to help.
- Talk about the Reasonable Accommodations (above). If you don’t think the official accommodations are necessary, discuss with your parents, teacher and school what they might be able to do to help.
- If you are not happy with how anyone has responded to your having migraine, feel free to contact us. We can send information for teachers and parents that might help them to help you. some people still see migraine as just a headache and don’t realise that it’s a complex neurological condition with over 600,000 sufferers in Ireland alone.
- Study in a place and environment that suits you. Some people like to work in their room, others in a library or some while listening to music. Use whatever works for you.
- Ask for help when you need to. No matter what kind of help you need, be it emotional or educational, don’t be afraid to ask. Sometimes having someone to study with can lighten the burden, chances are they have many of the same fears and worries as you do.
- Studying in itself can be stressful and takes quite a lot of energy. Make sure you stick to your usual routine as much as possible. Take regular breaks and eat regular meals. Try to avoid anything that might trigger your migraine, and don’t be afraid to take a longer break than normal if you’re not feeling well. If you’re sick you can’t concentrate, and if you can’t concentrate, you can’t study. Be careful not to skip meals in order to keep studying and make sure you have access to plenty of water.
- Make sure you go to bed at the same time each night. Staying up late to study is a sure-fire way of triggering a migraine. Don’t cram if you can help it. If you’ve scheduled everything well in advance, there should be need to cram. Sleep is also important for your memory and concentration. If you don’t get enough sleep, it can be badly affected.
- Try to distract yourself from studying every now and then. If you play sports, then go training. If you like walking or running, go out and get some fresh air. Give your eyes and head a break. Do something that will relax you.
- If you are feeling stressed and it’s all getting too much for you, tell someone, even if its only a friend. Don’t keep it in. Parents, teachers and friends are happy to help. If you don’t feel comfortable about talking to people you know, then call the ISPCC Support Line on (01) 676 7960 Monday to Friday 9am-5pm. They will be happy to listen to you.
- Exams are important, and it’s great to get good results, but not getting the result you want is not the end of the world. There are always options before you. There are other places to go for help, and if you don’t get enough points for your first choice college course, then there are organisations like Access College or Ahead who might be able to help you.
If you have any other tips as a student with migraine for school or during exams, please feel free to share them on our Facebook page. Please don’t hesitate to contact us if you need any information. Call us on 1850 200 378 (RoI) or 0844 826 9323 (NI)
The best of luck in your exams, both mocks and real ones.
To College and Beyond…
Okay, so you want to be a doctor, actor, or engineer but you’re afraid that your migraine has disrupted things so badly that you may not achieve as high a score as you would have without the disorder. ‘It’s not fair’, you think to yourself as you see your classmates who don’t suffer cheerfully mapping out their future careers. Don’t despair, this may not be as much of a problem as you think. I mentioned Access College and Ahead above.
They are two organisations which work with students with disabilities, and if you fit the criteria they can help you to access your preferred college and course with reduced points or special needs if necessary. Sometimes they can make up the difference with points, e.g. if you need 315 points but you only get 300 in the leaving cert, DARE may be able to make up the extra 15 points, depending on your application.
The DARE Programme – “Disability Access Route to Education (DARE) is a third level alternative admissions scheme for school-leavers whose disabilities have had a negative impact on their second level education. DARE offers reduced points places to school leavers who as a result of having a disability have experienced additional educational challenges in second level education”.
DARE has a long list of disabilities but they are not limited to what’s on this list. We know of one case where a student who suffers from migraine applied through DARE and succeeded in getting their course as well as on-campus accommodation. Have a look at their website and talk through the options with your parents and teachers well in advance. Knowing that this is out there can help to lighten your burden and reduce the worry about what’s ahead.
Ahead – “AHEAD, the Association for Higher Education Access and Disability is an independent non-profit organisation working to promote full access to and participation in further and higher education for students with disabilities and to enhance their employment prospects on graduation”
Ahead has sections for people who are looking to go to college, in college, looking for work, and for teachers, lecturers and other professionals who work in the college environment. There are links for employers too, and tips on how to approach an employer regarding your disability, as well as legal information. They have links to several organisations and websites that might offer tips and information about getting where you want to go, despite your disability.
So that’s that…
Hopefully you will be on your way to achieving your goal of completing your exams successfully and will emerge unscathed to a relaxed, migraine-free summer. With a little luck it will even be sunny!
Remember your three ‘R’s; Routine, Relax, Relations. All of these can help you through. Don’t be afraid to ask for help at any stage. There will always be somebody willing.
Please feel free to contact us should you have any questions, comments or need any information. Our Information and Support Line is 1850 200 378.