Children’s Blood & Cancer Center

Educational Support for Patients

Medical illness and treatment for chronic diseases like cancer and blood disorders can disrupt a patient’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/her full potential.

Children in treatment for cancer and blood disorders 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 (also called neuropsychological function).  For example, pediatric cancer patients who undergo chemotherapy, surgery, and/or radiation may experience difficulties with memory, attention, organization, time to complete assignments, and planning ahead.  Additionally, patients with sickle cell often experience trouble with attention and focus due to their medical condition.

Having a chronic illness can impact learning in different ways. Even though many patients can be physically present in the classroom, they could miss amounts of information due to difficulties 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.  Unfortunately learning challenges can continue long after cancer treatments end and are sometimes lifelong.

Educational Support Increases Patient Academic Success

The CBCC psychosocial team educates 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 (called neuropsychological testing) to identify problems.
  • The psychosocial team establishes open lines of communication between the school, child, parents, and health care team.
  • They develop specialized educational plans and conduct 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 for patients experiencing emotional challenges in the academic setting to the pediatric psychologist.
  • 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. The CBCC psychosocial team helps parents become strong advocates for their children.  School personnel learn to support patients as they cope with medical illness and work through learning challenges.  With extra support in the academic setting, patients are able to keep up with and excel in their studies.

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