What is Multiple Sclerosis?
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a neurological condition affecting 2.5 million people worldwide, 8,000 of these in Ireland, and twice as common in women than men. It attacks the nerves in the brain and spinal cord, causing problems with muscle movement, balance and vision.
Each nerve fibre in the brain and spinal cord is surrounded by a layer of protein called myelin, which protects the nerve and helps electrical signals from the brain travel to the rest of the body. In MS, the myelin becomes damaged.
This disrupts the transfer of these nerve signals, causing a wide range of potential symptoms, such as:
- loss of vision – usually only in one eye
- spasticity – muscle stiffness that can lead to uncontrolled muscle movements
- ataxia – difficulties with balance and co-ordination
- fatigue – feeling very tired during the day
Approximately 8 out of 10 people with MS will have the relapsing remitting type of MS. People with this type of MS will have periods of time where symptoms are mild or disappear altogether. This is called remission and can last for days, weeks or sometimes months.
Remission will be followed by a sudden flare-up of symptoms, known as a relapse. Relapses can last from a few weeks to few months. Usually after around 10 years, about half of people with relapsing remitting MS will go on to develop secondary progressive MS. Symptoms gradually worsen and there are fewer or no periods of remission.
The least common form of MS is primary progressive MS. In this type, symptoms gradually get worse over time and there are no periods of remission.
IMPACT ON LEARNING SKILLS & DEVELOPMENT
Symptoms of MS usually first develop between the ages of 15 and 45, with the average age of diagnosis being about 30.
Young people are expected to study in a fairly fast-paced environment, which can have many distractions. The symptoms of MS can make this particularly difficult. Some people with MS find it hard to recall facts quickly, or to change concentration from one thing to another. Other symptoms, such as fatigue or problems with vision, can equally affect learning.
Many young adults diagnosed with MS continue to go to school. If MS affects a student to a point where the current situation no longer works for them, adjustments may be needed.
Learning Tips and Strategies
- Allow the student to adjust their timetable to help to avoid fatigue in the afternoon
- Flexible deadlines for assignments
- Use a laptop or tape recorder if handwriting is difficult
There may be times when a young person needs to take time off because of their MS. School/college can help ensure this does not cause the young person to get behind by keeping the student up to date with the learning programme in their absence. It may also be necessary for there to be a gradual return to full-time study.
At Third Level Education:
Multiple Sclerosis is one of the Neurological Conditions covered under the Disability Access Route to Education (DARE) system.
Full details of the DARE screening criteria are available here.
You don’t have to be eligible for DARE (Disability Access Route to Education) to get support in college. All students with a verified disability, regardless of whether they come through DARE or not, can avail of a variety of academic, personal and social supports while studying at third level. Further information on the support available in college can be found at accesscollege.ie
Many colleges and universities also offer classes online, which allows greater flexibility. Students no longer have to worry about commuting to campus or navigating crowded stairs and hallways; class begins in front of your computer. For those who want to enjoy campus life, taking some classes on campus and some online might work.
In the Workplace
Many organisations now make public claims to be an "equal opportunities employer". This suggests the existence of an equal opportunities policy (EOP), which is a policy statement adopted by the organisation declaring an intent not to discriminate and, further, to promote equality by taking steps to aid disadvantaged groups. Such employers are in effect promising to avoid discrimination on grounds of sex or marital status, and may also make such a commitment in relation to people with a disability and racial and ethnic minorities.
Workplace Equipment Adaptation Grant (WEAG)
If you are a person with a disability who has been offered employment or are in employment, and require a more accessible workplace or adapted equipment to do your job, you or your employer may be able to get a grant towards the costs of adapting premises or equipment. Details of WEAG grants available and how to apply are available here.
Having MS does not mean that you cannot work. More than one in three people with MS are still employed after having the condition for 20 years.
MS is a lifelong condition – symptoms vary and fluctuate unpredictably at first. It is important to learn what life is like for you with MS, how to manage symptoms, and how much they affect you.
- Symptoms may take years to appear – it may be a while before they actually impact your daily life
- Treatment may help you stay in control – disease-modifying drugs may slow disease progression if started early
- You have options – your employer may make accommodations to make your work life more manageable. As well as worpkplace adaptation, workers with MS might also request adjusted working hours, working from home, reserved parking, leave for treatment (paid or unpaid).
To Disclose or Not to Disclose ?
If you are feeling fine and your MS symptoms have not created any limitations for you at work, then you may choose not to disclose your condition. As your disease progresses, you may want to tell your supervisors and coworkers, especially if you require accommodations to be made at work.
Impact on Career Choice
Skills for workplace success fall into two main categories: hard skills and and soft skills. Hard skills are job-specific and they vary, depending upon the industry or field in which you want to work. For example, a graphic artist must have the computer skills that go with that job.
Soft skills are the personal characteristics that go with a variety of jobs - they include social skills, problem solving, communication, time management, and organisation. For example, a person who prefers to work alone might find a research job particularly appealing. Explore Career Skills in more detail here.
Symptoms such as fatigue and mild cognitive deficits are not uncommon with MS and may influence particular career choices. A heavy or stressful workload could also exacerbate symptoms. However, if you are the right person in the right job, the focus should be on your skills and abilities.
Famous People with MS
Jack Osbourne, son of Sharon and Ozzy Osbourne was diagnosed with MS in 2012.