Ways to stay connected to classmates and favorite teachers during treatment:
- Encourage calls, visits, texts, and emails from classmates.
- Arrange a video chat with the child’s class at school, or with individual friends.
- If possible, keep your child engaged with school during treatment. Work with the school to find activities and assignments that fit into your child’s treatment schedule and abilities.
- Keep teachers updated about your child’s condition. However, make sure to talk to your child first to learn what he or she may (or may not) be comfortable sharing.
- Ask your healthcare team when your child can return to school, even for partial days. Children’s hospitals often have an education coordinator or social worker to help make these determinations.
- Some children continue to attend school while they are in treatment. However, they may experience teasing or awkward relationships with peers during this time. Open communication with the school, classmates, and teachers can help your child deal with these challenges.
Before returning to school
The brain tumor and its treatments may have altered your child’s learning capabilities, behavior, strength, energy levels, coordination, speech, hearing, or eyesight. It may be the first time your school has worked with a family in your specific situation. Communicating with the school early and often during treatment will help smooth the way for a good transition. Also, you may find that your child is eligible for additional services to improve his or her educational experience.
Special education services and individualized education plans (IEPs)
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 – Section 504 ensures that those with physical or cognitive disabilities must be offered accommodations to help them achieve their educational potential. Under IDEA, your child is entitled to an evaluation, which will result in an individualized education plan (IEP). The IEP sets specific goals for your child’s education and outlines the accommodations and services that your child will receive. Once your child has an IEP, the school is required to provide the accommodations and referrals to services such as occupational therapy, speech therapy, or counseling. Other accommodations may include:
- Use of a computer or audiobooks
- Written class notes
- Weekly assignments given ahead of time
- Assistance with organization
- Use of a calculator
- Extended testing time
The IEP can be changed at any time during the school year, and typically the school will hold a yearly meeting to update the plan with all involved. Learn more about the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act: Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
Although schools offer their own testing to determine whether students qualify for special services, it is important to supplement those tests with an evaluation that is specific to children who have survived brain tumors. Neuropsychological testing will help assess needs and identify the necessary accommodations for a student to succeed in a classroom environment. Neuropsychological testing helps assess processing speed, attention, visual motor integrationhand-eye coordination, planning and organizing skills, visual and verbal memory, reading comprehension, math calculation, and applied abilities. The results from a neuropsychological evaluation should be included in your child’s overall records, and the recommendations should be integrated into your child’s IEP.
Work with the hospital-school liaison
Whether or not your child needs special accommodations at school, most children want to be treated as normally as possible. Many hospitals provide the services of a hospital-school liaison – a medical professional who can help ease the transition to school and provide ongoing support for your child’s physical and emotional well-being. Your liaison will meet with you and your child’s educational team to talk with them about your child’s condition and needs, and discuss any concerns you or the team may have. In this meeting, it also helps to talk about medical issues such as:
- Medications your child needs to take during school
- Medical devices such as a port, central line, or shunt, and warning signs of potential problems
- The potential for seizures and how to handle them
- Emergency contact procedure (what is considered an emergency, who to call first, contact information, etc.)
- Potential social and behavioral issues
- Physical disabilities such as hearing loss or motor coordination issues
Educate teachers and peers
People at the school who are unfamiliar with your child’s condition may cause your child undue stress. Many people have misperceptions about brain tumors, and may not know what to expect when your child returns to school. You, your hospital-school liaison, or a knowledgeable family representative can help prepare classmates and teachers by providing them with information about brain tumors, answering questions, and addressing concerns.