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How to Teach: Chronic Illness or Pain

Source: UC Berkeley DSP

Some students have medical conditions that are "non-apparent" (not easy to see), but cause serious problems in an educational setting. Students can be disabled by chronic illnesses such as asthma, arthritis, diabetes, cardiopulmonary disease, cancer, chronic fatigue immune deficiency syndrome, and seizure disorders. They can also be disabled by medical conditions that cause intense and continual pain: for example, repetitive stress injury, post-surgery, and back 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, and 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 which adversely affect attention and concentration. For these reasons, students with medical conditions may need extended time on exams.
  • 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. Please be patient when this happens.
  • Preferential seating 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 forced to stand during class, students may need podiums on which to rest open books and write.
  • Instructors in courses requiring field trips or internships need to work with their students and CAS to be sure the students' needs are met. For example, the students may need assistance with transportation, special seating, or frequent rest-breaks.
  • Some students experience recurrence of a chronic condition requiring bed rest and/or hospitalization. In most situations students are able to make up the incomplete work, but they may need extra time.