Peer interactions are vital for children with a heart condition, and school is an often where much of their socialization takes place.
Meeting with teachers and members of the school system prior to the beginning of the school year is an important step in order to introduce your child, explain his or her heart defect, and associated information.
It is important that you and your family work together with teachers to support and educate each other. At minimum, children with CHD should have a Health Plan on file with their school. Children with CHD and specific limitations, needs, or learning disabilities may require a 504 plan or Individualized Education Plan (IEP).
Parents are truly the experts when it comes to identifying their child’s strengths, weaknesses, and capabilities. Parents are typically the primary caregivers and will need to entrust the education and well-being of their child, during the school hours, to their child’s teachers and academic leaders. Scheduled communication and/or contact during the school year may clarify and reinforce your child’s needs and progress. Important information to share with teachers are the physical capabilities and limitations of the child, any medicine to be administered at school, and any other information such as expected absences for doctor appointments and to whom information can be given.
Teachers are not medically trained and may not even realize that children can have heart problems. Because there are sometimes very few outward signs of a heart condition, teachers may need to hear about your child’s condition multiple times in order for them to fully understand the child’s physical and emotional needs and/or limitations. Teachers should communicate as often as necessary with parents so that they feel comfortable understanding your child’s condition and/or symptoms. They may feel overwhelmed with the responsibility of having a child with a heart condition in their class or may have other children with special needs in their class as well. It is important for teachers to feel informed and confident that they are able to treat children equally while meeting their social and educational needs.
Children, especially if they are going to school for the first time, don’t typically understand ‘normal’ and ‘abnormal’. They usually don’t want to be labeled as different and would like to participate with the other children as much as possible. Sometimes limitations need to be set to protect children, despite their wishes to do everything to fit in. Other children may be worried that they have to do activities they are scared about doing. When appropriate, the child should be present at meetings and be aware of the discussions and decisions that are made during the meeting.
In order to create the best school environment possible, teachers, parents and the child need to work together and support one another.
During meetings, there are five areas that should be addressed:
Instruct the teachers when to call you with questions and when to call 911. Explain which behaviors and symptoms are normal and which are not:
When discussing your child’s health accommodations, remember to use simple terms: “My child is missing two of the four chambers of his heart”.
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