Children with an acute or chronic illness have a tough road. Not only must they deal with the typical challenges of growing up, including school work, peer relationships, family stress, etc., but they must simultaneously cope with the symptoms of their disease.
Conditions such as asthma, epilepsy, leukemia, sickle-cell anemia, diabetes, and even ADD/ADHD (Attention-Deficit Disorder/Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) fall under the classification of “other health impairment,” which is one of the thirteen recognized areas of disability. This is according to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA). (See my previous blog entry: “What Qualifies as a Disability?”) However, there are many other chronic conditions, too many to name here, which would also qualify.
What special education services are available for these kids?
Since there are so many conditions that fall under this umbrella, and because each individual illness has varying levels of severity, it’s hard to elaborate on the exact services provided. But here are some possible examples:
Adjustments can be made in the child’s schedule, such as a diabetic child being given adequate time before lunch to test his blood sugar. A tutor may be provided to help a student who is home-bound. Oral tests might be given to a child who is too ill to take a written examination. Allowances can be made for breaks, drinks, or snacks for a child whose medical condition requires it. Extra time to make up work missed due to medical appointments could be given. Any reasonable accommodation which will help the child to have the best educational experience possible should be made.
A Balancing Act
Children with illnesses want to feel like normal kids. Although adaptations can and should be made in the classroom, care should also be taken to try not to draw unnecessary attention to the illness. For example, a diabetic child who needs to receive insulin should be allowed time each day to quietly slip away to the bathroom or office. A child with ADHD could be given breaks or “outdoor” time in a way which is discreet and doesn’t make her feel like she is the class oddball.
It has been my observation that most children are very sympathetic to a peer with an illness, and have a heightened desire to be compassionate and helpful. If the disabled child is agreeable, a peer tutor may be an excellent way to provide additional classroom assistance. This could be an older student from another class who comes for a short time each day, or a responsible student enrolled in the child’s own class who can sit beside the disabled peer and offer help as needed.
Be Your Child’s Advocate
What I recommend is that as a parent, YOU make your child’s needs clearly known to the school administration. Once again, I urge you to be your child’s advocate. If something isn’t working in the current classroom setting, make it known immediately. Be willing to work cooperatively with the school, but insist that your child’s needs be met. With my son who has type I diabetes, a phone call to the teacher, or a letter to the principal has always done the trick. In more complicated cases, your child’s school administrators should appoint a special education worker, a therapist, caseworker, or other service representative, to help create an IEP (Individualized Education Program) for your child. But many issues can be resolved simply by dealing directly with your child’s teacher.