After a cancer diagnosis, children, adolescents, and young adults are likely to experience medical and non-medical complications in school. Therefore, parents and teachers should be aware of the educational issues related to cancer in order to meet their needs.
High-risk Cancers and Treatments
There are some cancers that cause children to have a higher risk of educational difficulties. These include brain tumors, tumors involving the eye or ear, Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL), and Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. There are also treatments, such as methotrexate, cytarabine, surgery involving the brain, and radiation to the brain, ear/infratemporal region, cisplatin, or carboplatin, that place children at a higher risk for developing learning and memory problems. In addition, research continues to uncover the connection between cognitive function and treatment for all types of cancer.
Common Problems Areas
The cancers and treatments mentioned above may potentially pose challenges with:
- Attention/ability span
- Ability to complete tasks on time
- Social skills
Dealing with Learning Problems
After treatment, it can be valuable for children to undergo a specialized evaluation by a pediatric psychologist; the examination will reveal how he/she processes and organizes information. If your child or student is having difficulties in school, make an appointment with the parent/teacher to establish a specialized plan. The plan should consist of specifically tailored strategies that will help the child better succeed. Examples of strategies that often help children with cancer-related educational problems are:
- Seating near the front of the room
- Modifying the test
- Prolonging assignment due dates
- Allowing the use of a calculator, keyboard, or tape-recorded textbooks and lectures
- Assigning of a classroom aide
There are resources available. For example:
- The National Cancer Institute has published a book on children and education: ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK221744
- The American Cancer Society has detailed information about supporting kids at school: cancer.org/treatment/childrenandcancer/whenyourchildhascancer/children-diagnosed-with-cancer-returning-to-school.
- LIVESTRONG offers a program that helps parents and teachers support kids in the classroom: livestrong.org/what-we-do/program/livestrong-at-school.
- Hospitals, such as Dana-Farber, have special back to school programs: danafarberbostonchildrens.org/for-families/patient-and-family-support-services/back-to-school-program.aspx
- Other hospitals, such as Stony Brook Children’s, host workshops for adolescents on how to get into and make an effective transition into college: stonybrookchildrens.org/collegeworkshop
For more information about navigating cancer and college, visit: http://triagecancer.org/blog/category/education/
Laws That Protect the Rights of Students with Disabilities
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (section 504), and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) were established to protect the rights and meet the needs of people with disabilities, such as cancer.
The IDEA provides “free, appropriate public education which includes special education and related services, to meet the unique needs of all disabled individuals between the ages of three and 21” (34 Code of Federal Regulation [CFR], Sec. 300.1[a]). This law focuses on protecting students from kindergarten through 12th grade. To receive these services, children must qualify under one of these disabilities: autism, deaf/blind, deafness, hearing impaired, mental retardation, multiple disabilities, orthopedic impairment, serious emotional disturbance, specific learning disabilities, speech or language impairment, traumatic brain injury, visual impairment including blindness, and other health impairments. If the child qualifies, school districts are required to provide access to special services and accommodations. Children are reassessed every three years.
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act states that no individual with a disability “be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance or any program or activity conducted by any executive agency” (34 CFR, Sec. 104.4). This law focuses on protecting students from kindergarten through 12th grade and at any or college or graduate school that receives federal funds. Accommodations are provided for students with chronic illnesses such as cancer, and other disabilities that inhibit them from performing one or more major life activities. Some accommodations include extra time for assignments and tests, seating near the front of the classroom, using a calculator, or having a note-taker.
This law prohibits discrimination in the workplace, transportation, communication, government, and public accommodations for people with disabilities. As adolescents and young adults begin to seek jobs and pursue their career goals, the ADA can provide protection against discrimination and access to reasonable accommodations. For more information about the ADA and reasonable accommodations, view these Triage Cancer Quick Guides: http://triagecancer.org/QuickGuide-ADA and http://triagecancer.org/QuickGuide-ReasonableAccommodations.