Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Homeschooling with a Chronically ill Child

Our family is emerging from a year of homeschooling with a chronically ill child. Our oldest, Emma, was eventually diagnosed with Menagerie's Disease (although we had a few red herrings). She had chronic dizziness every single day severe enough that she couldn't function and often it led to vomiting. The medications used to treat it would leave her so tired some days she spent all day in bed. We were housebound much of the time because any kind of travel made her condition so much worse. Right now she is feeling much better, and the symptoms have receded and seem to be in remission. I am not an expert, but these are the things I would tell anyone in my situation.

  • being ill is isolating. The reality of our circumstances was we couldn't get out of the house with any reliability. No one wants to drag a sick, miserable child all over the city and goodness knows all the sick child wants is to relax and be still. My advice: stock up on board games, and even on video games. This is the perfect time to start a tradition of reading a book aloud as a family. During this time where your social circle is narrowed, use it as a chance for your family to draw closer together. Every cloud has a silver lining. We have come out of this season of our lives with even stronger bonds between us as a family.
  • Your friends still care, even when you feel isolated. We live in a super busy society, people struggle to find the time for their own families. Our current way of life just isn't conducive to the challenges a chronic illness brings, because it is so different than just having the flu. Also remember that your schedule is now full of doctor visits, and has an inflexibility of its own. Sometimes you are just too tired to hold a great phone conversation. My advice: lean hard on extended family and on friends who have the flexibility to come and visit. Stay in touch with friends who don't have flexibility in their schedules through social media like facebook, message boards, and email.
  • Your academic school year is going to look different than you expected for your ill child. It's okay, give yourself a break. Homeschooling with perfectly healthy children is challenging. If your daughter doesn't learn Latin this year, it will be okay. You have enough stress and pressure already, you don't need to add any more guilt or stress at this point. You may have to look at what you consider "learning", or "schooling" to be defined as. This is most definitely not the time to lean heavily on a workbook based curriculum. You would be surprised how much everyone in the family is learning through this process.
  • Pare down your academic expectations to the "bare necessities". It is important for the ill child to be able to rest and focus much of their energy toward healing. We also had doctor appointments to juggle, and other health professionals to see. I found myself with much less time, a child who needed more time to recover, and I still had my household schedule to run and other siblings to maintain normalcy for. I decided that I was comfortable if Emma was only progressing in Math, and reading (or being read too). We saved everything else for days when things were going well.
  • Anytime is a good time to do school. In past years our family had a pretty structured homeschool schedule. This past year, that was not true. We did school whenever Emma felt like it, even if that was 10pm.
  • Be willing to use alternative media instead of textbooks. If you planned your academic year heavy on textbooks and workbooks, be willing to chuck that out the window. Most libraries have audio books and e-reader books available to loan. Be willing to switch over to a year that just includes reading, or hearing good books. If you have a Wii, or your child has a Nintendo DS, both offer educational games that teach foreign languages or challenge problem solving skills with puzzle oriented games.
  • Try to reduce the impact on siblings where you can. When one member of the family gets chronically ill, the whole family experiences it. There really isn't any way to avoid that. But when you can, make sure that siblings are able to make their classes, or continue with events that are important to them.
The most important thing I can offer is be patient with yourself and your situation.


H-Mama said...

that's good advice. so sorry... hope she only continues to improve! ((hugs))

Kelli said...

I am so sorry for your little girl and will be sure to keep you both in my prayers!

You also have some curriculum that is totally literacy bound, like Sonlight. Although much more work for you because of the pure amount of reading you do, it is a GREAT program.

Can you tell what I used? LOL!

KDSmith said...

Thank you! I have a son with special needs including 4 therapy sessions per week. I work full time and just started homeschooling Kindergarten this year. I have been beating myself up for the lack of progress I feel we are already making. This is encouraging and I'm happy to have read it. Thank you again and I'm happy to hear your daughter is doing better,

Rhonda said...


I stumbled upon your blog while looking for encouragement for a fellow homeschool family who have a child being treated for cancer while they are trying to keep up their homeschooling w/ their other children. I will forward your blog to them but I wanted to make comment about your daughter's diagnosis also in hopes thay you might see my post. I am wondering if you meant Meniere's disease which causes extreme vertigo? The symptoms you describe match this condition buy you spelled it differently. I was diagnosed with Meniere's a few years ago, after an expensive MRI of my brain & extensive blood work, and put on Meclazine (sp) which had horrible side effects for me. There were some things in my case that were not matching up w/ the diagnosis and to make a long story short I ended up seeing a physical therapist who specialized in cranial sacral therapy and muscle fascial release. It turned out that my chronic vertigo, double vision & severe nausea were caused by nerves in my first cervical vertebre and I been symptom free since treatment four years ago. If your daughter's condition is indeed Meniere's I would think she is way to young for this condition and am wondering if you have explored some other possibilities. Your general practioner will call you nuts if you mention vertebre as a possible cause as they look only at "vision center" which is in the brain. An active child, especially one involved in any type of sport, can tweak something in the neck easily. You may have already traveled that road of possibility but I didn't see anything posted so I thought I would go out on a limb. In the meantime I will add you to our prayers as I know how horrible the vertigo symptoms are as well as the medication.