Teacher perceptions of children with recurrent headache pain

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MacNevin, Rebecca
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Teachers’ understanding of and response to students with recurrent pain may affect academic and pain related outcomes. This research examines the effect of communication from a medical professional on teacher perceptions of a student experiencing recurrent headache pain. Participants were 106 teachers (88 women and 18 men) from elementary, middle, and high schools in the Halifax Regional School Board and the Chignecto-Central Regional School Board [mean teaching experience = 11.75 years (SD = 8.39); mean grade level taught = 6.21 (SD = 3.41)]. Participants completed an online survey in which they were presented with a vignette describing a hypothetical student with headache pain. Fifty-five teachers were randomly assigned to read a letter from a hypothetical medical professional detailing the symptoms and effects of recurrent headache pain, whereas 51 teachers were randomly assigned to a control condition in which they were provided with basic information about the IWK Health Centre. Participants rated multiple dimensions of the student’s pain and provided open-ended responses regarding their current knowledge of pain, as well as areas in which they would benefit from further training; these responses were analyzed qualitatively using a content analysis approach. Results indicated that teachers who received the letter perceived a higher degree of pain severity than those who did not. Teachers who received the letter were more likely to reduce the student’s workload and alter deadlines for tests and assignments. Qualitative analyses indicated that teachers require more information and/or training regarding the nature of recurrent pain in children (i.e., prevalence, symptoms, medical management), as well as more information with respect to the types of physical and academic accommodations appropriate for students with recurrent pain. This research suggests that both education and health care professionals would benefit from more open communication regarding the management of students with recurrent pain. The school psychologist is in a unique position to facilitate communication and act as a liaison between children and families and the various professionals involved in their care. As such, school psychologists would benefit from training and education in the management of health-related concerns among students.