Asthma and the special child

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A practical guide to managing asthma in the classroom

There are many misconceptions about asthma. Indeed, the severity of asthma and the need for proper medicine management are often not understood. For people with learning disabilities, these problems can be magnified because of the lack of access to tailored information.

It can be difficult to address these challenges in education settings where there are so many issues jostling for priority. However, it is particularly important for people who work with a person who has both a learning disability and asthma to be able to explain asthma clearly and simply. It is also crucial that school staff work with parents to ensure that the way asthma is communicated remains consistent in both classroom and home settings. Schools also need to play a more effective role in ensuring that people with learning disabilities manage their asthma.

Tips for handling asthma in the classroom

Make sure your school has an asthma policy
This can be a stand-alone policy or can be incorporated into a health and safety or first aid policy.

Keep an asthma register
Know which children in your class have asthma and talk with them and their parents to find out which inhalers they have to take and when. Get them to write this down so that you have written consent to administer medication. If a child has an asthma attack or needs their inhaler while in your care, always inform the person collecting the child.

Ensure access to asthma medicines at all times
Using a reliever inhaler could make the difference between a child needing to go to hospital or not, so make sure they are always accessible.

Be aware of asthma triggers
Make sure that you are aware of any triggers which might exacerbate a pupil’s asthma and any changes in the pupil’s condition or medication.

Asthma attacks

Knowing what to do if a child has a potentially life threatening asthma attack will give you the confidence to act when needed. Sometimes, no matter how careful someone is about taking their medicines and avoiding triggers, s/he may still have an asthma attack.

A person is having an asthma attack if:

  • his/her reliever inhaler does not help their symptoms
  • his/her symptoms are getting worse (coughing, breathlessness, wheezing or tight chest)
  • s/he is too breathless to speak, eat or sleep.

What to do if a child has an asthma attack

  • Help them to take one or two puffs of their reliever inhaler (usually blue) immediately.
  • Sit them up and get them to take slow steady breaths.
  • Reassure them and try to get them to keep calm.
  • If they do not start to feel better during an attack, make sure they continue to take two puffs of their reliever inhaler (one puff at a time) every two minutes, taking up to ten puffs.
  • If their symptoms do not improve, or if you are worried at any time, call 999.
  • Following an asthma attack, the child will still need to see a doctor or asthma nurse within 24 hours.

Further information

Jenny Parry is Children and Young People’s Development Manager at Asthma UK. For more information about asthma and the charity’s free teaching resources, visit:
www.asthma.org.uk

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