Teaching Students with Medical Conditions or Chronic Pain

Some medical conditions are not apparent or easy to see, but are troublesome to students in an educational setting. Students can be disabled by chronic illnesses such as asthma, arthritis, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, cardiopulmonary disease, cancer, and chronic fatigue immune dysfunction syndrome. They can also be disabled by medical conditions that cause intense and continual pain: for example, repetitive stress injury, post-surgery, and back/neck problems.

Symptoms of all these conditions can be unpredictable and fluctuating. Students with chronic illness or pain may have limited energy and difficulty walking, standing, or sitting for a long time. Their pain, or the side effects of medications, may cause them to become dizzy or confused, making it hard for them to pay attention in classes, complete out-of-class assignments, do library research, or stay focused during exams.

The following suggestions may help you to work effectively with students who have disabling medical conditions:

Medical conditions, including medication side effects, can cause problems with fatigue and stamina that adversely affect attention and concentration. For these reasons, students with medical conditions may need extended time on exams, and may need to take short breaks during class.

Students with some medical conditions may become dizzy and disoriented, or may lack physical stamina. Thus they may be unable to quickly get from one location on campus to another. For these reasons, a student may be late getting to class.

Adaptive Furniture may be necessary to meet student needs. In a few situations, students may be unable to use the type of chair provided in a particular classroom. If they are unable to sit for extended periods of time, students may need a podium.

Instructors in courses requiring field trips or internships need to work with their students, the off-campus site, and Accessibility Services to ensure students' needs are met in these environments. For example, the student may need assistance with special seating, assistive technology, or frequent rest-breaks

Some students experience recurrence of chronic conditions requiring bed rest and/or hospitalization. In most situations students are able to make up the incomplete work, but they may need additional time, or appropriate advising whether to get an Incomplete or withdraw from the class.

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