When children have chronic health concerns, it is more important than ever for the parents and school to form a partnership for the benefit of the child. The National Institutes of Health has an excellent guide that instructs families, schools, and students about their responsibilities regarding chronic illnesses. If you have a child with health needs, I highly recommend that you read it.
As a teacher it can be really helpful for me if parents speak to me directly regarding concerns about their child’s health. The more I know, the better I can support the child. For example, I had an upper school student who always fell asleep in my first period class. It is very easy to assume that the reason for this was that he was choosing to stay up too late at night and not taking care of himself. After a call home to parents, I learned that he had a chronic sleep disorder! He was under a doctor’s care and was doing everything possible to get enough sleep. Once I knew this, I was able to figure out a way to help him when he fell behind by meeting with him later in the day.
Sometimes a health condition can be embarrassing for a child. In these cases it is extremely important that parents and teachers are discreet around other students. There is normally no need for other students to be made aware of the situation. Teachers may need to know, but they should be reminded not to talk about it around other people, as well. In fact, they should not talk about it with the child unless there is an important reason to do so.
We have occasionally had students with chronic conditions who wanted to inform the class about it. In those cases, it can be helpful to allow them to do so. An example of this is when a child has frequent seizures. I knew a student who explained his condition to his classmates in detail including what to do in the event he had a seizure at school. Within weeks, he did have a seizure, and the other students were helpful and understanding. Talking about it was at his request, however. Many children would not feel comfortable doing this and should not be asked to do it.
Managing health issues at school is difficult. It is hard for the child, his or her parents and teachers, and for the school. It is imperative to work together to figure out how to best help the child. Not feeling well, having less energy, or having a serious health issue is difficult enough for children. The adults in their life should not add to the problem, but rather work together to make life a little bit easier.