Going to School with NMO

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: December 2022

Neuromyelitis optica spectrum disorder (NMO) is an autoimmune condition and can impact many parts of life - including going to school.

How does NMO affect students?

Unfortunately, there is no cure for NMO. However, there is medication to help treat symptoms and prevent flare-ups. It is key for students and their families to learn how to cope with NMO to manage:3,5

  • Absences
  • Assignments
  • Vision problems
  • Mobility limitations
  • Who is impacted by NMO?

    NMO can occur at any age, but it commonly occurs around age 40. NMO occurs less often in children and older people.

    Without treatment, NMO attacks can happen frequently and can lead to problems with walking and vision. The symptoms of NMO can impact daily activities and performance in school.1,2

    NMO: The basics

    In autoimmune diseases, the immune system attacks the healthy cells in the body. In the case of NMO, the immune system attacks the nerves of the brain and spinal cord. In turn, the brain, eyes, and spinal cords are primarily impacted by symptoms of this chronic illness. 1


    NMO can lead to swelling (inflammation) of:1

      The spinal cord (transverse myelitis)
      The nerves connecting the brain to the eyes (optic neuritis)
      The area in the brain responsible for the emetic (vomiting) reflex

    The symptoms of NMO vary based on the part of the nervous system affected.

    Transverse myelitis related symptoms

    Symptoms linked to inflammation of the spinal cord include:1-4

  • Weakness, numbness, tingling
  • Problems walking
  • Tremor
  • Bowel or bladder control problems
  • Pain (neuropathic pain)
  • Loss of appetite
  • Optic neuritis symptoms

    Inflammation of the optic nerve in the eye can cause:1-3

  • Loss of vision
  • Blurry vision
  • Pain with eye movement
  • Loss of color vision
  • Blank spots in the visual field
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Symptoms related to brain inflammation

    Inflammation of the emetic reflex center in the base of the brain can result in:1-3

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Long hiccuping episodes
  • How can I manage NMO as a student?

    If you are a student with NMO, the strategies below may help you better cope with your condition and limit its effects on school performance. Students who can manage their health condition have better academic outcomes. These strategies and accommodations can be helpful for elementary-aged children to adults in college.3,5

    Tips for students with NMO

    Seek counseling to help with emotions and stress. Work closely and frequently communicate with your teachers and school office staff to address any concerns or needs. Discuss the opportunity for flexibility in your schedule and how you will make up any missed schoolwork.3

    Request special accommodations for learning material such as:

  • Larger text for written assignments
  • Audio recordings of lectures or classes
  • Testing orally, rather than written
  • Online option to accommodate schedule changes
  • Making life as a student with NMO a bit easier Use assistive technology as much as possible. Could you talk to your doctor about wearing an eye patch or other visual assistive devices when reading or using screens to help with symptoms? Use elevators when available if you are having symptoms in your legs. Always carry an extra change of clothes in case of bladder or bowel dysfunction.How parents can be advocates for their children with NMOConsider the following: 4 Work closely with your child’s school to make them aware of any additional needs that your child requires. Your child may be absent frequently, so discuss this with their teacher to help them keep up on schoolwork. Could you arrange online teaching or assignments, if possible? Perhaps you can speak to your child’s doctor to develop a plan if your child is having issues with functioning at school. If your child is experiencing worry, sadness, or low self-image, seek the help of a child or teen psychologist.Teachers and schools play an essential role, tooTeachers and schools are advised to do the following:3,5Identify and regularly monitor students with chronic health conditions.Provide specific education to students and their families to help them self-manage their NMO.Provide psychological and social support for students and their families when possible.For students with problems with vision, provide hard copies of learning materials or a recording device before beginning a lesson and have reading assignments recorded or available in large text.Provide the option of oral testing and allow extra time to complete schoolwork.Allow for extra travel time between classes and advocate for flexibility in the student’s schedule.Reaching your goals as a student with NMO - it can be done!Students with NMO may experience several symptoms that can make it challenging to be successful in school. However, with communication and planning, this can be improved. Students, parents, and schools can work together to find ways to overcome some of the barriers put up by this condition.

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