Children with chronic illness or special education needs need more support for online learning

Online learning poses additional challenges for children with chronic conditions or special educational needs, and these patients may benefit from greater support from pediatric clinicians to achieve academic success, according to a new article by opinion published in JAMA Pediatrics published today and co-authored by researchers at the Kennedy Krieger Institute and Johns Hopkins Medicine.

Clinicians must address school-related challenges or issues just like any other medical need in pediatric care, said Lisa Jacobson, PhD, NCSP, ABPP, Co-Director of Kennedy Krieger’s Center for Innovation and Leadership in Special Education (CILSE ) and Director of Research for the Institute’s Department of Neuropsychology.

This includes collecting a child’s complete medical history and details of their academic performance, as well as noting any signs of any academic difficulties the patient is facing. Clinicians can reach out to neuropsychology teams, educators, or social workers to help their chronically ill patients keep pace with their peers academically.

These recommendations are based on research conducted with pediatric oncology patients, who experienced unique barriers with e-learning during the COVID-19 pandemic; in fact, more than half, or 57 percent, of parents of children with cancer reported difficulty learning online during this time.

Before the pandemic, parents of children with cancer also reported difficulty obtaining special education services due to several factors, including a lack of familiarity with the resources available as well as how to obtain them. But these challenges are not unique to pediatric cancer patients; children with other chronic illnesses, including the longest COVID, or with special educational needs face the same obstacles, said Dr Jacobson.

However, these same families often have regular interactions with pediatricians throughout their child’s treatment or care. By raising awareness of the positive role pediatricians can play in educating their patients, these clinicians could provide assistance with school-related issues, she said, adding that not doing so could help. negative impacts on health throughout life.


Kennedy Krieger Institute

Journal reference:

Thornton, PC, et al. (2022) Education for children with chronic illness. Move forward in online and virtual learning. JAMA Pediatrics.

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