Potentially Life-Limiting Conditions
“Sometimes he was very strong and able to come to school, and sometimes he was homebound. The students would see the child in the school and out of the school. They would celebrate when he was doing well. Then we went through, unfortunately, the time where he became very ill and he passed away.” (School Counselor)
It is increasingly common for children with serious and potentially life-limiting physical conditions to attend school in regular classes. In some situations, students continue in classes until close to the time of their death. This module describes steps school staff can take to provide support to a seriously ill student, as well as to classmates who are likely to have questions and concerns. Similar approaches can be taken when a member of the school staff is seriously ill.
Education professionals can take steps to support seriously ill students, help classmates understand what is happening, and provide information and support to parents.
- Help students understand. Provide information about the illness, its treatment, and the fact it is not contagious. Discuss side effects of the illness or treatment. (Check with the ill student and the family about what information may be shared. Ask if the student would like to be present during the discussion.)
- Help peers be helpful. Offer guidance on ways to be helpful. When students understand what is happening to their classmate, they are less likely to tease or isolate that student.
- Keep parents informed. Let parents know what their children are learning in class. Provide information that will allow them to answer their children’s questions.
- Other students may be dealing with serious illness. Conduct all discussions with the presumption other students in the class may be facing similar issues in themselves or a family member.
- Support the ill student. Sometimes, the greatest gift educators can provide is the opportunity to feel normal and maximize current quality of life. Support the student’s ability to attend school, actively learn, and contribute in class.