For college age and boarding school patients and their parents in Walden’s Adolescent Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP), the beginning of the school year brings unique challenges. One of the major concerns from parents is how to maintain their child’s eating disorder treatment and recovery gains while their child is away.
Depending on where your child is in recovery, there are many different ways to monitor their recovery progress when starting the school year. The first thing parents should do is contact the schools health services center. The nurse or doctor on site can weigh your adolescent weekly and have their vitals checked to make sure they are still on track with their weight goals. The vitals can be emailed or faxed to their pediatrician or eating disorder specialist. If your child is an athlete, and has been cleared for sports, having their weight and vitals checked at least twice a week is recommended in the beginning of the season as their body adjusts to increased physical activity.
One of the biggest concerns that has been brought up is meal time supervision and how to know if meals have been completed. At boarding schools the nurse is able to provide meal time supervision of all meals if necessary. At the college level that can be more difficult, which is why the weekly weights and vital checks will be necessary and will show if meals are being completed or not. If your teen is going to college with friends having them identify one friend they know they can eat with can also be helpful.
In terms of parental involvement, if the school is within driving distance, going up one time a week for dinner as a family is another way to keep support and structure. While most of our patients are not open to this idea, it doesn’t have to be for the entire school year. If things are going well and weight has been maintained along with flexible eating, the frequency of visits can slowly be weaned down to once a month. There is also the option to start the school year with the teenager coming home Friday evening through Sunday evening to ensure that progress is maintained and weekends remain structured as long as they need to be. As noted before, weekends home can be weaned down as a reward if the teen is doing well. The reduction in frequency of weekday visits and weekends home has been the biggest incentive to getting control over the eating disorder for our patients in the adolescent IOP.
Seeing a therapist that specializes in eating disorders is another way to provide additional support to your child while at boarding school or in college. Therapist visits can also be tapered down depending on your child’s progress.
About the author:
Michelle Felton is the lead clinician of the Adolescent Intensive Outpatient Program for Walden Behavioral Care in Waltham, MA. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Keene State College and her master’s degree in Community Mental Health from Argosy University in Phoenix, AZ. Michelle’s professional interest include the treatment of eating disorders in adolescents, athletes and families.