‘It’s a medical condition … you need to support as much as possible’: A qualitative analysis of teachers’ experiences of chronic fatigue syndrome/myalgic encephalomyelitis (CFS/ME), by Amberly Brigden, Alison Shaw, Esther Crawley in BMC Pediatrics Vol 21, #1, p 6, January 4, 2021
An increasing number of children with complex health needs are being educated in mainstream classes. CFS/ME is a complex and disabling condition, and there is little guidance on how primary school teachers can support younger children with this condition. To improve care, it is important to understand what these children need in the school setting, and the barriers and facilitators to teachers providing this support.
The aims for this qualitative study were to explore teachers’ views about CFS/ME, their experiences of supporting a pupil with CFS/ME and their perspectives on the barriers and facilitators to providing support.
We recruited families from an NHS specialist paediatric CFS/ME service and families were eligible if the child was aged between 5 and 11 years and had a diagnosis of CFS/ME. We gained written consent/assent from families to invite the child’s teacher to participate in a qualitative interview. We contacted these teachers, gained written consent and then carried out semi-structured qualitative interviews. Interviews were audio-recorded, transcribed, anonymised and analysed thematically. Interviews took place between July 2018 and December 2018.
We interviewed 11 teachers; their pupil’s age ranged from 5 to 11 years and school attendance ranged from 0 to 80%.
Theme 1: Most teachers provided rich descriptions of their pupil’s CFS/ME; they consistently described cognitive dysfunction and significant fatigue, but beyond this the symptoms varied from one account to the next (from mobility problems, to aches and pains, digestive problems, headaches, nausea and hypersensitivity). These teachers noted the ripple effects on their pupil’s social, emotional and academic functioning. Two of the eleven teachers said that they did not observe symptoms of CFS/ME, expressing a degree of scepticism about the diagnosis.
Theme 2: Teachers described a close relationship with their pupil. They said they understood the individual needs of the child and portrayed positive and proactive attitudes towards providing support. The type of support provided included facilitating rest breaks and limiting strenuous activities; using practical strategies to address cognitive, physical, social and emotional difficulties; maintaining a connection with the child during their absences from school; and encouraging the child to talk about their health and wellbeing. Teachers noted that receiving formal confirmation of the child’s diagnosis enabled them to put this support in place.
Theme 3: The adaptations they described were often intuitive, rather than being based on a knowledge of CFS/ME. Teachers wanted more resources to increase their understanding of the condition and its management.
Primary school teachers want to provide effective support for children with CFS/ME. Clinical services should consider working in collaboration with teachers to equip them with evidence-based strategies for CFS/ME management in the primary school setting.