School Attendance for Children With Chronic Illnesses

Jessika Boles, PhD, CCLS


Pediatr Nurs. 2017;43(6):305-306. 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


When a child is diagnosed with a chronic illness, parents may feel as if the world has stopped, or at least, as if life as they knew it has been forever changed (Morawska, Calam, & Fraser, 2015). In the United States, approximately 1 out of 4 children will be diagnosed with a chronic illness this year (Compas, Jaser, Dunn, & Rodriguez, 2012); a total of 10% to 30% of children in this country are actively living with and managing a chronic illness (Thompson, 2009). Many of these illnesses necessitate frequent medical office or hospital visits, and treatment regimens that produce significant and unpredictable side effects or lifestyle changes. As a result, not only are the child and family's current routines and relationships impacted, but chronic illnesses and their treatment also carry the risk of long-term developmental impacts and coping challenges (Morawska et al., 2015).

Typically developing children often spend a large portion of their time participating in school, whether in a public or private institution, or in their home with a parent or another instructor. School is an expected and staple aspect of childhood in many respects (Rogoff, 2003); it is the primary context in which children develop. However, school attendance and participation can be greatly impacted by a chronic illness in childhood.

The school-age years are a period of great developmental achievement and progress across domains. Physically, children are refining their fine and gross motor skills through penmanship and physical education; then with puberty, physical development rapidly accelerates to prepare them for adulthood. Cognitively, school helps children gain knowledge and a variety of skills, some of which are measured by standardized tests, and others that are hard to quantify, but also integral to the development of self and social relationships. Socially, the school years help children build relationships that teach the implicit communication and interaction skills needed for societal success. Finally, these relationships and learning processes provide a spectrum of emotional experiences in which children learn to identify, express, and regulate their emotions in accordance with cultural norms (Rogoff, 2003). In every sense of the word, school is a formative context of learning and development.