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12 Ways Teachers Can Help Their Chronically Ill Students Be Successful

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Life has changed a lot for me over the years of having this illness. I once was top of the class. I worked hard, with lots of extra study, and got the grades I wanted. Being diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome meant my hours of activity every day became very much restricted, and I could no longer put the hours of hard study in. I no longer feel like I’m the highly intelligent women I once was, as my head often feels a mess and I can’t even think straight.

Over the years of my illness I have come across many different attitudes and reactions from people. It hasn’t always been good – some of my worst experiences have been from lecturers with their frank disbelief that my illness even exists. It is always going to be hard when you have an illness no one else can see, that is mostly invisible to all but the most observant or familiar. I have written this piece to help others, to educate teachers so no one has the same experience as me.


Despite everything I have been though, next year I hope to complete my degree (a PhD in chemistry) and fully celebrate my hard-earned success. I have written this short guide for teaches/academics/professors to help others struggling unnoticed achieve their goals and finish school.

1. Do your own research into your student’s condition so you are informed. Understand their diagnosis, read up on the conditions to understand what it involves – the symptoms and how it affects your student.

2. Ask your student about their condition/illness and listen to what they are telling you. Always remember to ask, “How are you?” It’s such a small simple question, but it means a lot. For your student, it may be not a simple question to answer, as there are probably multiple places that hurt or don’t feel right, so don’t be surprised if you get a very generic answer of “fine, thanks.”

3. Not all days are the same, so don’t assume we are getting better just because we are having a good day.

4. Understand that having a chronic illness affects every aspect of daily life and it may affect your student both mentally and physically.

5. Understand that maintaining friendships is hard and we may no longer have the energy to go out and meet friends. Often this will mean that our friends move on as they don’t understand our illness either. Furthermore, social gatherings and noise can exaggerate our symptoms, so don’t expect us to always attend. Also, please take this into account when arranging meetings as we can’t always think in busy places.

6. Brain fog is real. We are not unintelligent. This illness has taken a lot from us and brain fog makes it difficult to think, concentrate and remember.

7. Always ask how we are, and if there is anything you can do to help or any extra support needed.

8. Quiet space is important. Try and make a space at school where we can rest and have time out in.

9. We cannot push ourselves – this will only make our illness worse and then we need more time to recover.

10. Understand we will have to make and have time off in the day to rest.

11. Understand there will be days when we cannot attend. There will also be days off for doctor and hospital appointments. Please don’t make us feel guilty for needing to attend during school time.

12. Most of all, understand we are trying our best.

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Thinkstock photo via monkeybusinessimages.

Originally published: September 30, 2017
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