Achieving back-to-school success for children with chronic illness


July 19, 2016

Communication with educational and medical experts will help children with back-to-school transition.


While we’re still squeezing more fun out of summer, parents are also gearing up to send the kids back to school.  There’s much to do, but the parents of children with a chronic illness have special considerations.

School is a child’s job; it gives structure to daily life. Even while children are receiving medical treatment, school allows them to be with their peers. It also helps foster independence and success. Most importantly, the onset of school reminds us that there is a future.

So what’s the key to helping your child succeed in school? Communication. Open communication between parents and educational and medical experts is vital to academic success for children with chronic illnesses. School staff often don’t understand how to best meet the needs of these students, especially when the illness affects attendance. As a parent, you are your child’s most important advocate, so it’s important that you explain how your child’s illness can affect them at school.


Talk to the medical team

  • Ask if your child’s condition and treatments will affect school attendance.
  • Ask about details that will help you advocate for your child.  This includes:
    • The diagnosis;
    • Treatment needs such as clinic visits, hospitalizations and needs at school;
    • Possible side effects that could affect school performance;
    • Special precautions for common childhood illnesses such as chicken pox, flu, colds, etc.;
    • Activity limits, and;
    • What to do if your child gets sick at school.
  • Share any changes in your child’s health, abilities or interactions.


Talk to your child’s educational team

(Your child’s teachers, counselor, principal, school nurse, etc.)

  • Ask to have a meeting before or soon after school starts.
  • Share medical details that may affect school performance.
  • State your concerns and expectations.
  • Check in with teachers regularly throughout the school year.

It’s helpful to ask the medical and educational teams to share information with you. The goal is to determine the amount of support your child needs and create a written plan. This plan should include what’s necessary to stay current while in school as well as during absences. You, school staff and your child will work together to decide what’s best.  You may choose to create an accommodation plan (Section 504) or special education (IDEA). Always ask for written copies of what you agreed upon during the meeting.

Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt has certified teachers on staff who support patients and their parents who go through frequent and/or lengthy hospitalizations.


This post was written by Tisha Coggin, who has has been a hospital teacher for 14 years.  She loves the beach and enjoys decorating, traveling and cooking.