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November 28, 2023

Supporting Students: School in Eating Disorder Treatment

Supporting Students: School in Eating Disorder Treatment

The fear of slipping behind in school shouldn’t be a barrier to connecting with lifesaving eating disorder care. While this concern is common and valid, your child or patient’s health must come before any outside commitments or responsibilities—including their education. The good news? Prioritizing health does not have to adversely affect academic progress.

At The Emily Program, we are committed to helping our clients stay on track with school while getting the vital eating disorder support they need. The process of navigating your child’s education and treatment may feel like an impossible balancing act, but we are here to help.

Why Treatment Can’t Wait

Removing a child from the school environment can be an overwhelming decision, especially when the child is excelling in academics, participating in extracurricular activities, enjoying positive school-based social relationships, or working to maintain or achieve an academic scholarship.

Even if things appear to be going well, eating disorders can be significantly disruptive and make it hard for your child to truly thrive in school. Eating disorder symptoms related to the classroom include:

  • An inability to concentrate
  • Fatigue
  • Brain fog and delayed processing
  • Social withdrawal
  • Heightened perfectionism
  • Poor task prioritization
  • Impaired mood regulation
  • A lack of motivation
  • Difficulty switching tasks

Treatment for any eating disorder should be considered urgent, even if a student’s symptoms appear mild. The school environment can be high-risk for those susceptible to disordered eating and eating disorders as well. For some individuals, school can trigger or exacerbate eating disorder symptoms as a way to cope with related potential stressors, such as:

  • Academic pressure
  • Social comparison
  • Appearance-based bullying
  • Demanding schedules or workloads
  • Sports performance pressure
  • Scattered mealtimes in potentially chaotic settings
  • Diet talk from peers, teachers, and/or coaches

Many caregivers and providers worry their loved one’s mental health may worsen with the disruption to their regular school routine or distance from their peers and extracurriculars. In actuality, research tells us that the risk of not accessing care is generally greater than any risk of taking time away from school.

Eating disorders are dangerous and potentially life-threatening illnesses. The longer care is delayed, the greater the risks are to the body, the mind, and one’s overall quality of life. On the other hand, treatment allows symptoms to lessen, school-based challenges to become less daunting, and students’ chances of academic success and achievements to increase. Stepping away from the stressors and social pressures of school means more mental attention and energy to focus on lasting eating disorder recovery, which will enable a child to build a life worth living in the many years to come.

Academic Support at The Emily Program

The Emily Program’s commitment to serving the whole person means that we are here to walk you and your child through whatever emotional challenges come with the choice to prioritize recovery. Making the decision to disrupt your child and family’s lives for treatment is never easy.

We know from our decades of experience that providing appropriate individualized structure, compassionate, multidisciplinary support, and a full continuum of care can successfully prepare and transition a young person back to their home, school, and community. Our team creates a personalized care plan just for you and your family, with the goal of restoring hope, confidence, and resiliency.

Programming at The Emily Program supports full-body healing along with the development of sustainable, accessible recovery skills that your child can take into the classroom and beyond. We integrate educational support into several of our programs to promote academic advancement and successful school reintegration following a client’s discharge. Several factors influence how school is offered in treatment:

  • Level of care: In inpatient and residential care programs, school or study hall is incorporated into the programming hours during the school year. Study hall during programming hours is only included in certain partial hospitalization programs (PHP), so we recommend checking in with your specific location. While participating in intensive outpatient (IOP), schoolwork time is not included due to shorter programming hours.
  • School vs. study hall: All students in residential care are given time during the programming day to work on schoolwork. Some students enroll in the treatment center’s school district to work with a licensed teacher for added support, while others choose to manage schoolwork independently through their home school district.
  • State and school district variability: The educational options for students in treatment vary by state and school district policies and procedures. Be sure to reach out to your child’s school for information.
  • In-person vs. virtual programming: Typically, residential in-person treatment includes an option for the student to enroll in the school district where the treatment center is located. Students in virtual programming (PHP/IDP) work with their home school districts.
  • Student and family preference: Each family will choose what is most supportive for their child’s situation.

School Overview for The Emily Program’s Inpatient and Residential Treatment Centers

Our Anna Westin House for Adolescents (AWHA) in St. Paul, MN, offers the option of enrolling a child into the St. Paul School District while they are in care. This option involves a St. Paul district-licensed teacher who will provide instruction and communicate with you directly about progress and your child’s home district as needed.

If you prefer to keep your child in their home school district, you will need to coordinate with your child’s school. Your child will have a daily study hall to do independent schoolwork. They will be supervised, but there is no monitoring by staff for schoolwork completion.

Our Child and Adolescent Center in Durham has a distinctive school program that offers hospital education services through a relationship with the local school district to patients participating in our inpatient and residential levels of care. The education program includes a team of highly qualified teachers and science and math tutors, who are trained in the unique learning needs of students in treatment for an eating disorder. The educators provide individualized, one-to-one instruction in the Center’s classrooms. Students complete coursework and receive credit from their schools at home.

Our Columbus, OH, Residential location and our Atlanta, Georgia treatment center utilize LearnWell Educational Services to assist in coordinating and supervising your child’s educational progress while receiving treatment with us.

For lower levels of care (PHP/IDP, IOP), your specific Emily Program Admission Coordinator can provide school details for the level of care/programming you intend to pursue.

Communicating with a Child’s School About Treatment

Deciding whether or how to inform a child’s school about their eating disorder can depend on several factors, including the severity of the eating disorder, recommendations from professionals, the stage of the child’s recovery or treatment, and whether they could benefit from accommodations at school.

Communication with the school about absences for appointments or upcoming extended treatment stays is critical. Key school staff include the child’s school counselor, social worker, or nurse. A trusted teacher may also be helpful in connecting you to important staff members who can assist in making arrangements.

School accommodations may include:

  • Supervision at or after meals
  • Supportive eating spaces
  • An identified person to check in with if needed as they navigate their day
  • Distress management options, such as passes to leave class, the ability to bring fidgets to class, the ability to listen to music, etc.
  • Modified workloads or extensions for schoolwork

If your child or patient participates in extracurricular activities, it’s crucial to inform their directors and coaches about the child’s health concerns and need for treatment, as well as any necessary adjustments to their participation or potential absences. Depending on your child’s situation and preference for privacy, it may be beneficial for them to maintain communication with their extracurricular leaders or peers while they’re in treatment.

No class, assignment, grade, or team is worth compromising a child’s mental or physical well-being. Making the decision to seek eating disorder treatment can be overwhelming, but it is also life-changing and lifesaving. If you’re concerned about a student in your life, please don’t delay. Give us a call at 1-888-364-5977 or complete our online form. Full recovery is possible.

Get help. Find hope.