Chronic illnesses are defined as conditions that last at least 3 months, require extensive hospitalization or in-home health services, or at the time of diagnosis are likely to do so. Chronic illnesses affect at least 10% to 15% of American children.1 Two to four percent of children have severe illnesses that interfere daily with the usual activities of childhood.2 Rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, leukemia and other malignancies, spina bifida, seizure disorders, neuromuscular diseases, acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, and other chronic conditions are found most frequently in this population. There are also small but increasing numbers of children dependent on specific technologies, such as respirators, and children who require procedures, such as tube feeding or bladder catheterization.
Recent medical and surgical advances have improved markedly the morbidity and mortality rates of chronically ill children. Increasing numbers of children with many diverse conditions now survive to adulthood and are able to attend school and pursue their educational and social development.3 Children, including those with chronic health conditions, deserve the opportunity to develop to their fullest potential through the benefits of education and health care.
CHRONICALLY ILL CHILDREN IN SCHOOLS
What most distinguishes chronically ill children and their families is their need for access to coordinated specialized health care services to a degree not required by other children. Individualized attention to their special health needs in school is of critical importance. The illnesses and their treatments frequently lead to greater than usual school absence and may hinder educational progress.4 Illness or mediations may also limit alertness or diminish physical stamina.