Ryan handed out copies of the Arthritis Foundation publication When Your Student has Arthritis along with JA brochures and information on Caitlin’s medications.

Good Timing

Ryan recommends contacting the school at the beginning of summer vacation to put a new plan in place for the coming fall. “Generally, staff  are on duty for one additional week after the last day of school – and they are more relaxed, less stressed and able to give you some time to discuss the situation.”

This is also a good time to update existing plans for the coming year, she notes.

Taking time to meet and talk about possible changes to your 504 plan midyear is a good idea, especially as kids get older and shift from being in one classroom all day long to changing classes during the day.

Transition years between elementary and middle school or middle school and high school are key points to look over the plan. Most schools have an orientation night toward the end of the spring semester – you’ll want to attend and scope out your child’s new school. That’s also a good opportunity to bring up the subject with new teachers.

What’s in a Plan?

As for what a plan should address, think about how your child moves through an average day and how he copes with pain and stiffness. He may need extra time for bathroom breaks, might need to be allowed to use a rolling backpack instead of a shoulder bag or be provided a space to rest near the nurse’s station when he’s feeling bad. (Click here for a sampling of accommodations often used for kids with JA.)

Wendy Gray says her son Austin, who hates to be singled out for his JA, kept a bright orange index card on his desk last year. “If he was hurting too much to keep working, all he had to do was put it on the corner of his desk.” Austin’s teacher could see he wasn’t feeling well, and give him a break.

Cooperation is Key

Even with the most comprehensive 504 plan possible in place, there’s one highly uncontrollable factor in play when it comes to making it work – your kid.

For example, Caitlin’s plan allows her to exempt herself from gym class on bad days. “If the class is told to run, and her knees and ankles and really sore – she can sit down while they run, or walk if she wishes,” says her mom.

Only problem is, Caitlin was likely to run anyway, so nobody would know about her arthritis, Ryan says.

Now Ryan lets teachers know when Caitlin isn’t feeling well and asks them to come up with creative alternatives. Instead of getting physical, she can count other students’ laps or do clerical work in the office.