School Attendance

Why should kids with chronic illnesses go to school?

In our society, we are used to taking care of people who are sick by suggesting they go to bed, get plenty of rest, and take care of themselves until their health returns to normal. For children with chronic illnesses, that may not be possible. Their illness might last several years or even for their entire life.

A child with a chronic diagnosis, such as diabetes, cystic fibrosis, cancer or asthma, must learn to live with that diagnosis. Future happiness and adjustment is often determined by the extent to which the diagnosis becomes simply one aspect out of many that shape the child's life.

Kids with chronic illness must work hard to figure out how to continue with normal activities of daily life. Attending school often must take a back seat to time in the hospital, medical appointments, therapy and many other interruptions.

Some kids say they feel frustrated when they try to go back to school, because they lag behind their peers in their academic work. Sometimes kids feel isolated, and wonder whether their friends still want to spend time with them. They worry about being teased or looking different than they did before. Whatever the reasons might be, returning to school is often difficult for a child with a chronic illness.

School is good for sick kids

Having fun with friends.

We do know that being back in school is very good for a child with a chronic illness. School might be the one place where a chronically ill child can experience success and achievement, focusing on the things that are possible, instead of the things that are impossible. For example, a student who had to give up sports due to sickle cell disease, might excel in art or music learn to focus on academic subjects.

Some researchers have found that involvement in school can help a young person ignore or minimize pain and other physical symptoms, and focus on the positive aspects of life. Involvement with school, friends and activities could be "just what the doctor ordered" for a child with a chronic illness.

In addition, children with chronic illnesses need empathy, not sympathy. They need people to understand the challenges they face and provide the necessary support, rather than feeling sorry for them because they are sick. Being in school can help return a sense of normalcy to these children.

Children with chronic illnesses still need an appropriate education. Without education, they will not be prepared to become successful adults. The school experience of a chronically ill student will be filled with challenges, but success is within reach.

Providing every student with an appropriate education is not merely a legal requirement, it is the proper course of action. Legislation tells us that we must provide every student with an appropriate education without regard to disability. It is nice to see a legal requirement that just feel right.