If you have a chronic illness or disability, returning to school can be a scary, stressful experience. That’s especially true if you’ve been out for a while being diagnosed, treated, or possibly home/hospital schooled. It might have been six months, a year or more away from a “normal” school experience.

Here are some things to ask yourself as you get ready:

  • Do your friends know you’ve been ill?
  • Have medicines or procedures made you look different?
  • Are you comfortable talking with the other students about your illness?
  • Would you like a parent, medical staff member, or teacher to brief your new class to help them understand your medical condition?

Sometimes the trickiest part is making sure that the school environment is healthy and safe for you. Find out if you or your parents should request a meeting with the principal, nurse, psychologist, and/or anyone else you will be interacting with. You’ll want to make sure the team is up to date on current medical concerns and treatment! Then consider the following adjustments and accommodations:

  • What can you do and can’t you do? Can you go out to recess? Can you go to assemblies? Are there accommodations that could allow you to do some of these things?
  • Think about your eating restrictions. If you can’t even be around certain foods like nuts or gluten, make sure classmates’ parents know not to send these foods in to share.
  • Think about germs. Especially if you are immune-suppressed, you can ask that the desks be wiped down at the end of the day. Remind the teacher to have the class use hand sanitizer throughout the day (you may have to provide it). Ask the school to notify you if any child has chicken pox, measles, flu, etc. Set up the expectation that if someone in class appears to be unwell, you can move to another spot in the room to avoid exposure.
  • How is your energy? If you get tired quickly, does your schoolwork need to be modified? This may need to be part of a 504 or IEP process.
  • What other accommodations do you need? Would copies of the teachers’ notes be helpful (especially from days you’re absent)? How about extended time to finish tests and assignments? Can you record class lessons and discussions to review at home? Do you need a permanent pass to use the bathroom? Is there any reason you would need to use the adult bathroom versus the student bathroom? Should you have an extra set of books to keep at home rather than having to carry heavy ones home each night? Will you need a place to rest when tired or not feeling well?

Returning to school can be a wonderful new adventure or a fearful trip down the path of unknown. Think ahead, act ahead, and you can help ensure a successful and healthy start to the new school year.

Jeanne Kane
Jeanne Kane is an educational specialist with teaching credentials in regular and special education. She has a Master’s Degree in Exceptional Children. Jeanne is Program Coordinator and Educational Consultant for the HEAL School Reentry Program at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital. Jeanne has held this position for 12 years and has worked with the medically fragile population for 18 years.