Chronic health conditions are illnesses whose symptoms can wax and wane over a period of months or over the period of a lifetime. Chronic illnesses vary widely and are not equally symptomatic, even within the same person. Therefore, students with chronic illnesses require ongoing flexible accommodations. The education of a student suffering from a chronic illness can oftentimes be severely impacted. Teachers must be equipped with the knowledge of how best to assist these students.
How chronic illnesses can affect education:
- Illness, or medication for illness, may reduce work ethic and endurance
Chronic pain or certain conditions that impair the brain’s function may cause a lack of work ethic or endurance for lengthy, cognitively demanding tasks. Additionally, various medications a student may take to treat his illness can cause these same side effects. This can lead to students taking longer to complete work.
- Students frequently miss school
Frequent doctor appointments, hospitalizations, or days home sick in bed can cause frequent student absences. Students who are frequently absent are much less likely to meet grade-level standards than peers who are seldom absent. Additionally, students suffering from chronic illness may find it difficult to maintain strong relationships with their peers due to chronic absenteeism. This resulting loneliness can lead to many additional problems.
- Prejudice and stigmatization
Students with chronic illnesses may face prejudice and stigmatization by their peers. In the eyes of others, a student with a chronic illness may be viewed as lazy, incompetent, or weak. Some peers may feel that the student is exaggerating or faking his symptoms in order to receive special treatment.
- Difficulty moving around the school environment
Some students suffering from chronic illness may be mobility-impaired and have difficulty moving around the school environment. Consequently, they require more time to walk from class to class and will therefore consistently miss additional instructional time.
- Difficulty participating in some school activities
Students that are mobility-impaired may also have difficulty participating in activities such as P.E. and playground time. This can also be the case with students who have difficulty breathing properly or who require a constant attachment to medical equipment.
- Mental health conditions may result from the effects of the chronic physical illness
Stigmatization, loneliness, lack of meaningful peer relationships, chronic pain, and other factors may lead to mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety. These mental illnesses can have severe effects on a child’s education.
How can teachers accommodate students suffering from chronic illness?
It’s clear that students suffering from chronic illness are going through a lot, mentally and physically. It’s incredibly important for teachers to be aware of the backgrounds of their students so that they can provide appropriate support and accommodations. Following are some examples of ways that teachers can accommodate and support their students suffering from chronic illness:
- If a student has difficulty focusing on work due to fatigue or lack of concentration, allow him to use a computer, voice recorder, or other technology to complete his assignments more efficiently.
- For students who are chronically absent, provide after school tutoring and allow extra time to complete assignments and tests.
- Allow students to take frequent restroom breaks or visits to the nurse if their condition requires it.
Accommodating students suffering from chronic illness is as important as accommodating any student with special needs, Limited English Proficiency, or other aspect that needs specific interventions. Be sure to ask your school’s administration for extra support if you need help with these accommodations. While it may not seem that your effort to accommodate one student is being recognized, you can be certain your extra effort means the world to that one student.
Docente - Investigadora Educativa.
Doctora en Cs. de la Educación, Magíster en Desarrollo Curricular y Licenciada en Relaciones Industriales.