Posted by Mitch on Aug 17, 2016

Danielle Bello, Ph.D.

Back-to-school fairs, back-to-school news stories, back-to-school sales! We are being flooded with this messaging in advertising and can’t escape it. I, myself, feel the impulse to buy spiral-bound notebooks that I don’t need just because they are 57 cents each. For many families, this is a time of excitement and anticipation as children gear up for the new school year. However, for families with a sick child, this time of year can have a different impact. It may be a source of stress for families if a child will not be attending school or the traditional school program. It can also be a source of conflict as a family readies siblings for the new school year while the medically ill child feels left out. Here are some reminders for families who are parenting a medically ill child:

If your child is remaining home, think of ways to include them in the back-to-school excitement. They too can select certain school supplies that will be used at home (for example fun pencils, flash cards, workbooks, water bottles). New fall clothes can also be purchased because when doesn’t a child need new clothing? Additionally, Candlelighters Childhood Cancer Foundation of Nevada and Nevada Childhood Cancer Foundation are holding a backpack and school supply drives for our patients.

Besides changing behavior, change your perspective. Instead of viewing this time of year with a sense of loss or stress that your child won’t be attending school and may fall behind, view it as taking a different road with different needs and milestones. Health challenges can delay meeting goals or keeping up with the achievements of school friends but reinforcing that the child’s journey to healing is also very admirable and a goal all its own. Instead of a new pencil case, perhaps a medal is more appropriate.

Considering homebound education services for your child? These are services provided by the school district that supplies in-home teaching for children that for medical reasons are not able to attend a school building. Some programs use an online format while others use teachers that come to the home. Many of our patients have had homebound education at one point in time. If this is something that you want to explore for your child, this is a perfect time to set up these services by contacting the school.

For families with children returning to school after a long absence, this can be a time of stress as you hope your child easily integrates back into the flow of school, keeps up with academics, and rekindles social relationships. Support them during this time by preparing the school and the teachers for any services your child may need and educate them on the journey your child has taken. These educators will be your child’s support system during the school day and it is important to make sure they have an understanding of possible negative events (for example teasing or bullying, child treated differently by teachers, isolation from peers because of being away from school) and proactive plans to manage these events. Discussions with your child about school and feelings about returning to school are important. Acknowledge any negative emotions (fear, anxiety) but reinforce that the school will be welcoming and fun. Also, return to school can be a form of celebration that the child’s health has improved.

Some children, especially after a long school absence, benefit from neuropsychological testing which assists in determining whether a child is behind in any area and provides documentation for the school to use to give the child services. I provide these evaluations for our patients. If you are interested in finding out more about this type of evaluation, please contact us at 702-862-1147 or talk to your primary provider.

Here at Cure 4 The Kids Foundation, our Child Life Specialist, Sue Waltermeyer works with families that are preparing a child to return to school. She does classroom presentations to explain cancer and other medical illnesses to students in kid-friendly terms. Waltermeyer's visit helps the child be welcomed and understood upon return to school.

Need help with school services, 504 Plans, IEPs, or homebound programming? Lydia Adame, the educational director at Nevada Childhood Cancer Foundation, can help (Lydia@nvccf.org or 702-735-8434). She has worked with families and schools to ensure that a child’s academic needs are met.

Dr. Bello joined the Children’s Specialty Center of Nevada in 2015, and is the clinic’s first full-time, in-house clinical psychologist and neuropsychologist.