Tips for Students With Fibromyalgia and ME/CFS

Going to school can be a big challenge when you have fibromyalgiachronic fatigue syndrome, or other chronic illnesses. The mental and physical demands of education can make it seem impossible at times.

However, being sick doesn't mean you or your child have to stop working toward your dreams. It may force you to slow down and make some adjustments, though. With steady work and a good game plan, you may be able to keep moving forward until you reach your goal.


Communicate With Instructors

Photo of a red apple sitting on top of a book in a classroom

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Communication is key. It's important to let instructors know that you or your child may need accommodations and may miss classes more frequently than other students. They may be willing to provide lecture outlines or other aids if they know there's a disability that can make learning difficult.

Make sure they know about the many symptoms of cognitive dysfunction, which may impact academic performance.

If an instructor is unwilling to accommodate, talk to a superior. You should be able to get reasonable accommodation based on your disability or condition. However, keep in mind that you may need to produce medical records to prove limitations.


Limit Course Load

In college, you have a lot of control over how heavy a course load you take. Try to keep it realistic and manageable for you, and keep in mind that you may need to drop a class or two along the way. If you're getting scholarships or financial aid, make sure you know how many credits you need to maintain.

It's harder to adjust your course load in high school (or earlier), but your school or district may offer options that can help children with disabilities. For example, you may be able to go to school for a half day and take a couple of classes online.


Ease Physical Challenges

A heavy book bag is not your friend when you have fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome. A wheeled bag can be a lot easier on you than a backpack or an over-the-shoulder bag.

For K-12 students, it might be possible to get a second set of books from the school so one can be left at home instead of carried back and forth.

You may be able to get electronic books for English and literature classes. Classics are often available for free.

You might want to consider recording classes, for a couple of reasons:

  1. It can keep your hands and arms from getting overworked.
  2. You can listen later to help overcome cognitive dysfunction (brain fog).

If the campus is large, see if you can schedule classes close together or arrange for some kind of transportation in between.


Think About a Tutor

A private tutor may help you or the child in your care overcome any learning challenges as well as catch up after missing classes. Try to find one who will come to your home so meeting with them doesn't further sap your resources.

Look into whether your school provides free tutoring services. If not, you may need to hire a private tutor. Local college students may be willing to help out for a relatively low cost.


Look Into Alternatives

It may be that a traditional school environment isn't right for you or the child in your care. If that's the case, you may have several alternatives to explore.

For K-12 education, home schooling, charter schools, or private schools may suit your needs better. It's also possible to get a high school diploma online. If the school has a counselor, they may be able to help guide you toward the best option for you.


Be Realistic

While it's best to stay optimistic about getting through school, you want to keep a realistic outlook so any setbacks aren't emotionally devastating. Expect that it could take longer to reach your goals and that you may have some struggles along the way.

If you or your student have trouble setting realistic goals or dealing with setbacks, you may want to consider a mental health counselor to help with these hurdles.

By Adrienne Dellwo
Adrienne Dellwo is an experienced journalist who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and has written extensively on the topic.