I have a child with alopecia in my class. What should I do?
Around 1% of children have some form of noticeable difference, so it's a great help (for both teachers and the child) if teachers are adequately prepared. Understanding some of the social and psychological issues, or to have anticipated questions that may be asked, particularly by younger children, e.g. "Can I catch it?", "Why is his hair falling out?" etc, makes everyone's life easier.
Changes in physical appearance can be distressing, and a child who looks different has to deal with other people's reactions every day. Staring, comments or teasing can, unless the child receives effective support, lead to low self-esteem and behavioural problems. Or just mean that the child doesn't enjoy school, either socially or academically.
Equally, the child knows that people notice their difference, so 'not talking about it' can undermine their experiences. Or they may feel they can't talk about it either, whether to ask questions or simply express how they feel. A supposedly tactful silence could increase their sense of being 'different', and later make it difficult to address bullying if it does occur.
But, directly addressing the issue should ONLY happen in consultation with the child and their parents. If secrecy is important to them - many children don't even tell their closest friends - you must respect this. There is often no need for anyone else to know as hair loss doesn't rule pupils out of any activities. Although some wig-users prefer not to take part in very physical activities such as trampolining.
If secrecy is not an issue, teachers can help by preparing the other students and doing their best to facilitate sensitive discussion of the issues. They should try to create a caring and supportive atmosphere, by making pupils aware of what it feels like to be 'different' - at secondary school this may form part of a PHSE scheme of work. You may need to work hard to curtail inappropriate comments, but this, alongside activities designed to awaken tolerance, awareness and respect, should help the pupil with hair loss feel comfortable in the classroom.
One excellent source of information is Changing Faces
. Their Schools Service can work with anyone involved in the care of a child with any form of disfigurement, as well as offer support if problems develop.
Their web site offers an excellent series of age-specific guides to help teachers plan and prepare:
The National Alopecia Areata Foundation has also put together a 'school pack':
Lastly, if you feel that alopecia represents a significant change in the child's needs at school, parents can request a Statement of Special Education Needs (SEN). This is a legally binding document that, if approved, secures funding from the local LEA for provision for the statemented child. The school must employ an educational psychologist and/or a social worker to assess the child's needs, and the needs of the child detailed in the statement must be adhered to.
Date: 21 June 2007