Challenges with RLS in the Classroom

September 11, 2019 Back to School with RLS By Kris Schanilec As kids head back to school this fall, many will be facing a unique ch...

September 11, 2019
Back to School with RLS

By Kris Schanilec

As kids head back to school this fall, many will be facing a unique challenge. For children and adolescents with RLS (an estimated 1.5 million kids in the US alone), sitting still in a classroom can be very difficult. Like adults, kids with RLS tend to seek relief from their discomfort by moving their legs – for example, by fidgeting, stretching or changing position. Moreover, unlike adults, kids often complain of RLS sensations more during the day than at night. Add to this the effects of sleep deprivation on mood and attention, and RLS kids in the classroom can be in for a bumpy ride.

Teachers and other adults in schools need to be aware that RLS is a legitimate medical condition, and that your child needs support and accommodations. Here are some strategies to help ensure your child can manage his or her RLS to thrive at school.

Talk openly with family members about RLS.

Your child is struggling with a disease that is difficult to understand. By educating your whole family about RLS, you can help create a safe environment for your child to talk about symptoms and feelings. The Foundation has resources to help, such as the RLS Guide for Teens, an RLS children’s booklet (The Adventures of Patty Pillow), a patient handout and a healthcare provider brochure.

Talk with your child’s teacher.

Make an appointment to speak with your child’s teachers, school nurse and school counselor. These individuals can help you create an informal plan or a formalized plan (such as a Section 504 plan or Individualized Education Program) with accommodations that allow your child to manage RLS symptoms while at school and during school activities. For example, stretching or standing can help during classes; applying ice or heating pads may help when sitting for periods of time. You can also share handouts about RLS with the adults who will be supervising your child.

Establish a routine.

A solid bedtime routine will help your child fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. Here are some good rules of thumb:

  • Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day.
  • Avoid large meals or snacks right before going to bed.
  • Turn off electronics at least two hours before bedtime and encourage quiet activities like reading a book (not on a tablet or phone) or taking a bath. Keep all electronics out of the bedroom.
  • Make sure your child gets plenty of fresh air and exercise to support a healthy sleep-wake cycle.
  • Remind your child to avoid common RLS triggers, such as caffeine, sugar, nicotine, alcohol, stress and extreme exercise. (Moderate exercise is best.)
Be assertive.

Finally, remember that while teachers and others at your child’s school may be juggling many priorities, at the end of the day, their No. 1 priority is the children in their care. They want and need to know if things are not going well, if accommodations in place are not working, or if your child reports any teasing or bullying. Don’t be afraid to speak up about your concerns. You are your child’s most important advocate – and your efforts may help another child with RLS in the future!

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