When we talk about disability and how it effects our school children, we often aren’t made aware or forget about those who suffer with what many experts deem a hidden disability. Hidden disabilities come in many forms, but it is important that parents and students alike advocate zealously for those with hidden disabilities, because they are not as readily seen as other societal markers of disability.
During World Cancer Day, we discussed many ways students could self-advocate or parents could advocate for their child who is undergoing cancer treatment, but it is important to be cognizant of how hidden disabilities affect your child’s ability to succeed in school and minimize any effect on your student’s educational success.
Most reports indicate that between 13% and 17% of children in the United States have chronic illnesses (Stein & Silver, 2002; Torpy, Campbell, & Glass, 2010). These students can suffer from a range of illnesses. These diseases dramatically affect absenteeism and educational success. There is also a strong correlation between chronic illness and subsequent emotional issues. Two initial steps in instilling advocacy and empowerment in your child that I would like to discuss today are education and encouraging age-appropriate self-care toward autonomy.
Educate the chronically-ill child about his/her disease.
There is no coincidence that the more you know about your disease the more resilient you become. I find that no matter how upsetting the initial diagnosis is, children do better with properly honed and age appropriate information. This allows them to better understand their prognosis and to see that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Also, don’t underestimate your own knowledge and support and how that translates to your child’s knowledge and understanding. This strategy has been proven successful in improving adjustment levels. (Eiser, 1990, 1993)
Allow for more self-care, emphasizing age-appropriate responsibilities.
Something as simple as having a weekly ritual of creating the pill case as a family will empower your student with hidden disabilities. Make this a family activity by filling your own pill case with vitamins or fish oil supplements. A family that together values health and wellness allows for greater residence and acceptance for a hidden disability.
As your child becomes more comfortable with these steps, she can be an educator in her peer group and talk openly and frankly about her illness. Consequentially, she will be able to articulate what she needs from her friends, teacher and administrators.