Battling pediatric cancer and blood disorders can disrupt a child’s ability to attend school, learn new information and thrive within an academic environment. Ultimately, this can interfere with a child’s ability to reach his or her full potential.
Children in treatment at the Children’s Blood & Cancer Center (CBCC) of Dell Children’s Medical Center in Austin, TX can develop difficulties with learning, thinking or behavior as a result of their medical illness or due to their medical treatment. Medical illness and treatment can affect the function of the central nervous system, including the brain.
For example, pediatric cancer patients who undergo chemotherapy, surgery, and/or radiation may experience difficulties with memory and attention. Because of illness-related stress, they can also have problems with organization, finding time to complete assignments and planning ahead. Patients with sickle cell often experience trouble with attention and focus due to their medical condition as well.
Having a chronic illness can impact learning in different ways. Even though many patients can be physically present in the classroom, they could miss large amounts of information due to issues with learning or attention. For other patients, missing school due to hospitalizations and treatments can cause disruption in learning new material. In addition, some patients who engage in homebound services can become disconnected from teachers, classmates and friends, which can impact their mood and self-esteem.
Most educators are unaware that childhood cancer survivors and children with blood disorders experience learning problems. Learning challenges can continue long after cancer treatments end and are sometimes life-long.
Educational Support Increases Patient Academic Success
The CBCC psychosocial team works together to educate teachers, administrators and classmates about the effects of a patient’s disease and its negative effects on learning.
- If a CBCC patient experiences difficulties in learning, they undergo a specialized evaluation by a neuropsychologist to identify problems.
- The psychosocial team establishes open lines of communication among the school, child, parents and health care team.
- Specialized educational plans are developed and the psychosocial team gives presentations to teachers, school nurses and counselors so they can better understand the patient’s illness, treatment, side effects and negative impact on their lives.
- Using teaching dolls and videos, a child life specialist provides age-appropriate information to classmates about a child’s illness and treatment so they can learn how to be good friends and provide emotional support to the patient.
- The team provides counseling referrals to the pediatric psychologist to work with patients experiencing emotional challenges in the academic setting.
- For patients needing 504 services or special education, the team participates in informal and formal meetings such as Admission, Review, Dismissal (ARDs) to contribute to the student’s school plan.
CBCC school services are crucial to give patients their greatest chance at achieving academic success. School personnel learn to support patients as they cope with medical illness and work through learning challenges. At the same time, the CBCC psychosocial team also helps parents become strong advocates for their children. With extra support in the academic setting, patients are able to keep up with and excel in their studies.
Get more information on educational support for children battling blood disorders or pediatric cancer.