A chronic illness can present a special challenge for your child as she relates to other children. Youngsters constantly scrutinize one another. A child with a visible disability or one who receives special treatment may be singled out by classmates because of those differences. Middle childhood is a hard time of life for children to feel that they are different in their appearance or their capacity to keep up with classmates. A condition that requires medication, frequent absences from school, rest periods, or special equipment, such as braces or eye patches, can cause embarrassment and make children feel like outsiders.
However, children who differ in health, race, religion, family, and a myriad of other circumstances can discover that they have more similarities than differences. One of the goals for your child’s school experience is that she learn to accept and be accepted by others, regardless of differences. Bear in mind that while feeling different can be traumatic, most youngsters are quite resilient.
They and their families not only usually learn to accept their limitations, but also find creative alternatives to problems that initially may have seemed overwhelming. These children—when assisted and supported by family, friends, and professionals—can develop into stronger individuals, despite their extra burdens.
On the academic side, children with chronic illnesses and normal intelligence should demonstrate classroom achievement just as high as that of their peers. Yet studies show that many of these youngsters underachieve at school. This may occur for a number of reasons. Their stamina may be lower, or their medication may impair their alertness or make them irritable. If their illness causes them frustration, they may have emotional or behavioral problems that can interfere with schoolwork.
With diseases like sickle-cell anemia, asthma, cystic fibrosis, and diabetes, youngsters may frequently miss several days of school at a time, a period that may not be long enough to qualify for a home teacher. Hospitalizations may also keep them away from the classroom. In situations like this, your child could be at a disadvantage. If she falls behind her classmates because she is absent from school too much, she may become frustrated and her motivation may falter. She might also become anxious about having to catch up on missed assignments. This anxiety can lead her to avoid school, even when she is physically able to attend.
Most of these issues, however, can be dealt with successfully by working with the teacher, the pediatrician, and/or a child psychologist. If your child has a health problem that is likely to interrupt her regular attendance at school, plan ahead. Meet with her teacher at the start of each school year to discuss how best to keep your child up to date on her work. Plan how homework will be sent home and thereby prevent your child from slipping too far behind. Since your child may have frequent doctor’s appointments, discuss with your child’s physician the importance of scheduling them after school hours whenever possible so as to avoid missing class.
Also, by keeping your youngster’s teacher updated about her health condition, you and your pediatrician can work with the teacher to prevent unnecessary disruptions of your youngster’s academic progress. However, be cautious about requesting preferential treatment for your youngster at school. If her teacher frequently excuses her from homework or exams, your child may become overly dependent on this kind of special attention. The teacher may also underestimate the child’s real capacity for learning and therefore have lower expectations. Most schools provide home teaching for long or intermittent, frequent absences; this usually requires a statement of necessity from your child’s pediatrician or primary physician and should be based on a careful assessment of the benefits and risks for your child.