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Returning to School

Originally published on November 10, 2009
Most recently updated on April 10, 2013

“Back to normal” means “back to school” for most older children. When your child returns to school, you want him or her to be treated as normally as possible. You will need the cooperation of both the school and the health care professionals working with your child. It is important to update your child’s teachers and the school nurse with whatever medical information will help them help your child in school. The more knowledgeable and familiar the teachers are with how your child functions, the more the classroom environment can be adapted to your child’s special needs.

Many children can continue to attend school while they are in treatment. Many are at risk of psychosocial problems that can be exacerbated if educators and classmates misunderstand the consequences or side effects of the child’s treatment and disease. If informed, teachers can deal successfully with problems with your child’s self-image and relationships with peers as they arise.

Accommodations may be needed to meet your child’s special needs. Check to see if your school has wheelchair accessibility for both the classrooms and toilet facilities. Special bathroom privileges may be needed. Your child may need playground or gym exemptions, if he or she is easily fatigued or has coordination problems. Seating arrangements in the classroom may need to be adapted if your child has suffered permanent or temporary hearing or visual impairment. You may want to discuss modifying homework assignments with the classroom teacher. If your child needs to take medications during the day, it is very important that you inform the teacher and the school’s principal and nurse what the medications are for and what their side effects may be.

To make the transition back to school an easy one, the teacher and school nurse should be encouraged to prepare classmates by providing them with information about the disease and treatment and answering any questions they may have. A slow, transitional approach to reentering school, perhaps only having lunch or going on a field trip with the class prior to a full-time return to school, can be helpful. Let the teachers and classmates know what to expect and give them an opportunity to express their concerns and feelings. It is important for the teacher to communicate to other students that cancer cannot be caught and that radiation treatments do not make a child who has them “radioactive.” This may eliminate children’s curiosity and make it easier for them to accept your child back into the class.

“An easing back into the regular routine was helpful for my son both physically and emotionally.”

Some medical centers provide an education team consisting of a child life worker and health care practitioner who can help prepare the class for your child’s return.

Before your child returns to school, set up a meeting with the teacher, school nurse, and principal. This meeting will give you an opportunity to discuss any special requests or concerns you might have. Suggest that the meeting also include health care professionals such as neuropsychologists familiar with brain tumor treatments, including surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and shunts. Give your child’s teacher a copy of Cancervive Teacher’s Guide for Kids with Cancer.

You might want to meet or speak with the teacher on a weekly basis to monitor your child’s progress. It might also be helpful to connect with your other children’s teachers as well. Remember to keep an open line of communication with your child’s school. The role the teacher plays is very significant to your child’s developmental adjustment and recovery.

The teacher and/or school nurse must inform you of any communicable diseases, such as chickenpox, that any class member has contracted. If your child is still in treatment and has not had chickenpox, exposure to this virus can be dangerous, and you should contact your physician immediately. (Chickenpox is worrisome primarily after chemotherapy; doctors rarely worry after radiation therapy.)

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