Returning to School
Going back to school can be both exciting and frightening. Cancer and its treatment often has effects that may affect your child's educational path and social development.
Before your child returns to school, meet with school staff to discuss your child's health issues and special needs. Your child's medical team and NCCS can provide educational materials to assist you when meeting with your child’s school. Most children feel strongly about being treated as 'normal' while at school; educating school staff, as well as fellow students, will help promote this behavior.
Following are some recommended topics to discuss with school staff prior to your child's return:
- Diagnosis and treatment plan
- Low blood counts and risk of infection.
- Intravenous central-line issues (Port-a-cath or Broviac)
- Contacting you immediately whenever your child has a fever
- Importance of informing you of any infectious disease outbreak (especially chicken pox)
- Immunization restrictions
- Attendance issues
- Logistics surrounding schoolwork pick up and return during absences
- Administering medication at school
- Issues that may prevent your child from completing homework, such as treatment schedules or persistent fatigue
- The possibility of arranging for tutors in specific subject areas
- Classroom seating to accommodate hearing or visual problems
- Activity restrictions
- Whether special permission is required to wear a hat or scarf at school.
- Handicapped accessibility, if needed.
- Whether your child may take extra time to move between classrooms.
- Who should explain cancer to your child’s classmates and appropriate timing
- Who should staff and peers contact with questions?
- If rumors start about your child, who will handle them and how?
Many children undergoing cancer treatment spend most of their time with their parents so it's common to feel anxiety when they return to school. Remind yourself that going to school is an important part of normal life for every child.
When Your Child Can't Attend School
Keeping your child in school may be the ideal, many children frequently miss school because of treatment, complications or compromised immunity. Research shows children who attend school during treatment have better social skills, more self-confidence and are less likely to experience academic problems than those kept at home.
There are a number of options available including homebound tutoring, a special service provided by school districts, or a private tutor, for students who must be absent from school for an extended time. Your child remains enrolled in school while in the homebound program and is ultimately expected to return. When your child is an inpatient, the hospital’s educational coordinator can assist with academics.
Homebound programs are administered in different ways, so it is important to know exactly what your school provides. Most students benefit from 'intermittent' home-tutoring, which means your child attends school when he can and is tutored at home when he cannot. Explore the options with staff from your child’s school and the hospital-based education program.
In addition to academics, school provides important lessons in socialization. Suggestions for keeping your child socially involved during absences include:
- Have your child attend "special" days, such as holiday parties and 'spirit' days.
- Encourage classmates to send cards, letters and pictures. Set up a collection box at school to make it easier for friends to contact your child.
- Stay connected to classmates through e-mail. Encourage your child’s teacher and class to initiate this.
- Help your child set up a Web site to keep others updated on how he is doing.
- Encourage your child to call or write letters to friends.
- Invite friends to visit and play. It is important that your child continue to be a kid.
Some children may need to avoid school altogether during treatment. If that's the case for your child, consider home-schooling, which means teaching your child at home with no official connection to public or private schools. Home-schooling is allowed in the U.S. and Canada, and each state has its own laws regarding the process. A wide variety of home-schooling styles and curricula are available. For more information about specific state laws, visit www.homeschool.com or http://homeschooling.about.com.
Learning Challenges Your Child May Face
As a result of diagnosis or treatment, your child may have difficulties in school. Some academic problems may appear immediately, but others may not surface for several years. Because childhood cancer is rare-and studies on survivors continue to release new findings about educational late effects-educators may not be aware of all of the educational late effects. As a result, educators may view your child from a very different perspective than you. It is important for you to inform your child’s teacher that potential learning problems may be related to cancer and its treatment.