When returning to school, college or university after suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome/ME the student should avoid both mental and physical over-exertion. On some days even the minimal mental or physical effort can be deleterious and the student has to learn to accommodate during what may be a long process of recovery.
With CFS/ME in school children much information can be found on The Tymes Trust website here.
With CFS/ME and fibromyalgia all cases are different, with students all requiring unique requirements which makes the education plan and management more difficult. The dysfunction in the hypothalamus and the disturbed autonomic nervous system affect different systems and parts of the body and mind. Often there is a problem in getting up in the morning to be in time for school or lectures due to a disturbed circadian rhythm.
The other problem with all patients is the waxing and waning nature of the illness and this has to be understood by educational establishments, with students sometimes having to take off days when their symptoms worsen even though they seemed pretty healthy. They may occasionally look healthy and attempt to fit in with the educational system and school/ university student life but are often in a much more serious state of health then they let observers believe.
Unlike some psychological illnesses, CFS/ME patients retain their motivation but struggle with post-exertion malaise. The student will often try their best to carry on but their symptoms worsen with continued attempts to over-exert themselves.
As the Tymes Trust says on their information page: ‘Most children and students with CFS/ME are able to make some progress academically if education is suitably modified. However, they may be unable to follow the usual timescales for Key Stages and examinations etc. Therefore, it is important for schools to plan for the long term.’
Home tuition and/or online lessons are often needed in severe cases, reducing the extra strain that any examinations will inevitably place on the student.
It is imperative that both in school and further/higher education the relevant teachers and lecturers know about the students health problems even if they are in the past, just so there is a level of understanding for not pushing too fast and empathy if the condition deteriorates.
Recovering patients need to pace themselves, even if they are virtually symptom free. The student requires as much extra time as possible in their course work and to be given regular rest breaks during any examinations with the maximum extension to the time period allowed when sitting for any examinations.
I always advise rest breaks and small snacks and water when they take their examinations to reduce the symptoms of dehydration and hypoglycaemia which are common in CFS/ME and FMS.
Patients well enough to live in student accommodation should try as much as possible to find the quietest and least stressful environment to live in and, even if completely recovered, should avoid too much alcohol and too many late night events etc, making sure that their fellow students understand that they are not just being party-poopers.
Other measures that usually help are the use of a rest/recovery room when needed plus the student should be given easy access to lessons or lectures such as parking spaces near to the college/university entrance, and use of elevators rather than having to traipse up and down many flights of stairs all day.