Most children with cancer will attend school at least some of the time during and after treatment. Because school is a place for learning and fun, children benefit from returning to school as soon as medically possible.
Yet, returning to school after cancer treatment can be a tough adjustment for young survivors. Your child may have reservations about returning to school, including fears about:
- the reaction of friends and other children at school
- missed schoolwork and social activities
- changes in his or her abilities
- changes in his or her appearance
- new routines
Discuss any fears your child may have about school before he or she begins. Help him or her develop coping strategies for situations he or she might face. For example, if your child has physical changes from cancer treatment, you should warn him or her about being teased by other children. Help your child learn ways to cope with teasing - and whom to talk to about it - to provide a sense of control over a situation.
You'll need to ensure that your child's education is started, maintained or changed as needed. Your child may have long-term or short-term treatment side effects that can affect his or her education. Your child's treatment team and school personnel will support you in shaping and carrying out an education plan. Take these steps to ensure that your child gets the support he or she needs at school:
- Reach out to the treatment team. Many hospitals provide support for children as they return to school. An age-appropriate class presentation, either before or after your child returns to school, can let school friends and classmates know that it's okay to discuss the illness. The presentation can be prepared, and possibly given, by a medical team member, who can identify language and concepts the class can understand. If your child has undergone physical changes, such as hair loss, weight gain or scars, it can help to include this topic in the talk. Your child can participate in a way that makes him or her comfortable.
- Meet with school administrators, teachers and counselors before your child returns to school. Make sure the staff is aware of your child's medical condition, and address any special needs or concerns with them.
- Let your child meet with his or her teacher(s) before returning to school to reduce anxiety.
- Ask school staff to promptly identify any issues that may arise and provide you with relevant information.
- Ask your child's doctor to write a letter outlining your child's physical limitations or medical needs, such as the need for extra snacks, water or bathroom breaks.
Returning to School
School personnel may not be aware of the potential for long-term and late effects of treatment. Parents and medical professionals need to inform educators about the child's education needs before the child returns to school. Parents, educators and medical professionals can work together to develop a program tailored to the child's specific needs.
The program may include:
- Baseline testing. Children may benefit from baseline testing before treatment, if possible, and continued comparative testing during and after treatment to determine whether neurocognitive problems or associated learning disabilities have developed.
- Special accommodations. You and your child's teachers can take steps can be taken to help your child's return to school, such as allowing him or her more time to complete class work or take exams. Children adversely affected by cancer treatment may qualify for aid under three different federal laws: the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and the Rehabilitation Act.
- Long-term planning. Plans can be developed to help a child through certain situations such as transitioning from middle school to high school or going on from high school to secondary education and adult life.
More to Explore
We're Here to Help
LLS offers several resources that can help ease your child back to school after an absence:
- The Trish Greene Back to School Program for Children with Cancer helps kids cope with life after treatment. Program videos and materials are available for students of all ages, from preschool to high school, that teach how to deal with the issues surrounding childhood cancer.
- Staying Connected: Facilitating the Learning Experience During and After Cancer Treatment (part of the Trish Greene Back to School Program) is an education program to educate school and college personnel and parents on the effects of childhood, adolescent, and young adult cancer treatment to improve the learning experience during and after cancer treatment..