A great education—with MS
A spectrum of strategies can help people with MS achieve their educational goals.
by Kelly Smith
Pursuing an education is a time-honored way to better oneself, and multiple sclerosis should not stand in the way of that goal. Know the legal rights of students with MS, take advantage of available resources and pay attention to the lessons learned by others. In this story, Momentum follows four students through their journey to obtain the best education:
Now in her early 20s, Channing Barker was diagnosed with MS in 2006 during her junior year of high school in Fayetteville, Ark. “Somebody told me that your energy is like a storage bank—you only have so much. You have to spend it wisely,” she says.
Kathleen Flaherty’s daughter Claire was diagnosed with MS in 2007 at age 7. Her first exacerbation resulted in a long hospitalization and required extensive rehabilitation. The family engaged tutors to help Claire catch up in school, and she now follows a full-day schedule. “You are the advocate for your child,” Kathleen says. “Only you can tell school staff what she needs.”
Emily Blosberg was diagnosed in 2011 while in eighth grade. Her father Dean was diagnosed in 1998. “My wife and I are concerned about college and what kind of struggles Emily may have. We’re learning all the available options before she goes,” says Dean, of Shoreview, Minn.
Reyne Mullins was diagnosed with MS in 2009 during his junior year of high school. He was a National MS Society Top Scholar and is now at Earlham College in Richmond, Ind. He recalls how much his teachers cared. “Some kids shut teachers out. They feel ashamed to talk about their MS or think teachers don’t want to hear about it, but that may not be true,” he says.
A is for advocacy
Whether you’re a student with MS, or the parent or child of a student with MS, it’s important to know how MS symptoms can affect education—and the best strategies for managing them. One strategy, however, cuts across all levels of education, from kindergarten to college: self-advocacy.
In a nutshell, self-advocacy means speaking up for yourself to get your needs met. “I learned to talk to my teachers and tell them what I had going on,” says Channing Barker, who was diagnosed with MS in 2006. “I also worked with the disability office at my school, the University of Arkansas,” she relates. “It’s about standing up for what this disease does to you.”
“At the beginning of every year, I meet with all of Claire’s teachers,” says Kathleen Flaherty, whose daughter Claire was diagnosed with MS in 2007. Kathleen gives each teacher a copy of the Society’s handbook, Students with MS & the Academic Setting: A Handbook for School Personnel. “I explain what MS is, and tell them about Claire’s medical and cognitive issues.”