Learning & education: Before your child goes back to school

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Essential information regarding issues that one should consider and take into account before sending a child with a heart condition back to school.

Key points

  • Speak to your child's teacher and principal before they return to school so they understand how your child's heart condition could potentially impact school performance, learning and attendance.
  • Work with school staff to ensure that school will be physically accessible to your child.

If your child has been out of school for some time, going back is a good way to get back into the routine and reconnect with friends. However, the change can be hard. Plan the transition back to school. Your child may have mixed feelings. They may have fallen behind in schoolwork. They may be out of touch with friends and may not be feeling well because of the effects of the treatment. Their school may not have experience dealing with children with heart conditions.

Your child may have had tutoring in hospital and/or at home, and their classmates may have kept them in touch with the latest developments. However, returning to school part time or full time can be challenging and tiring. For these reasons, you may need to take a greater role in your child’s schooling from now on. Here are some ideas that might help you.

Get in touch with school staff

Contact your child’s teacher and principal before your child goes back to school. Some hospitals have a school liaison nurse or social worker to speak or meet with school staff. If not, you can set up a meeting yourself. A telephone call or email is also helpful if you cannot meet in person.

Write down any questions or points you wish to make before you make contact. Here are some ideas:

  • Describe your child’s condition and treatment. Explain how it might affect school work and attendance.
  • Explain why common childhood diseases may be harmful to your child.
  • Tell them when they should notify you or call for emergency help if there is a problem.
  • Discuss whether your child may need an individual learning plan.
  • Ask them to keep in touch to let you know how your child is doing.
  • Let them know if you have other children at the same school. The change in their family life may affect their school work.
  • Let them know that they need to be flexible because your child’s condition may change over time.

Find out if your child will have access problems

Work with school staff to find a solution to these potential problems.

  • Stairs: Most schools have stairs. Many schools are not wheelchair accessible. If your child is having trouble walking, they may not be able to get around at school.
  • Bathroom: Most schools do not have anyone available to help your child with going to the bathroom.
  • Transportation: You may need to drive your child to school. If other special arrangements for transportation need to be made, you will need to speak with the school principal.

How can you ease your child's return to school?

Following are some suggestions how to smooth your child's return to school while they cope with a heart condition.

  • Make sure the school understands what kind of heart condition your child has. Someone with very little information about the range of heart conditions that exist might make incorrect assumptions about the severity of the condition and any restrictions associated with it. If they are not fully informed, teachers may worry unduly about symptoms that are not even associated with a given condition, such as the risk of heart attack, or they may not be able to identify symptoms that warrant medical attention. Ask your child’s doctor to write a letter about your child’s medical condition, physical problems, and any important treatment information. Make copies for the school principal, your child’s teacher, and school nurse.
  • Help other students understand what kind of heart condition your child has. For younger children, consider making a class presentation about the subject. Do so only if your child likes the idea. Older children are more reluctant to highlight their differences.
  • Be clear about what physical limitations your child is grappling with so teachers can make the necessary accommodations. This might include things like making allowances for extra time needed to get from class to class, or arranging for a locker on the ground floor.
  • Encourage the school to treat your child as normally as possible. If your child becomes defined by their heart condition, this can be quite stressful and influence their sense of identity.
  • Explain to the school that your child may be at risk of having some learning or behavioural problems as a result of the heart condition or its treatment. If you and the teacher can keep an eye on potential problems, special testing and tutoring can be arranged early to address the problems.
  • It will probably take time for your child to be back in full swing in school. Consider taking it slow, having your child slowly work toward returning to full days at school. They might also benefit from having a tutor or getting involved in some work groups.
Last updated: January 15th 2010