Physical or Health Disabilities Defined (page 4)

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Jul 20, 2010

Health Disabilities

The two types of health disabilities are

  1. Chronic illnesses
  2. Infectious diseases

Study Table 9.3. It includes definitions of illnesses and diseases seen in children. Of course, some general principles apply to all children who are sick, whatever the cause. All children have episodes of illness during childhood, but most of these are of short duration and not very serious. For a small number, however, their illnesses are chronic, lasting for years or even a lifetime. Students with chronic illnesses often do not feel well enough to consistently focus their attention on the instruction or may not be at school when important content is presented.

For many years the term medically fragile was used to describe all children with special health care needs, but it is now more selectively applied. Medically fragile is a status; it is not assigned to any specific condition but, rather, reflects the individual's health situation. Students can move in and out of fragile status. It is important to understand that because of medical technology, a greater number of medically fragile children now survive health crises. In the past, many of these youngsters would not have lived long enough to go to school. Others would have been too sick to attend their neighborhood schools and would have received most of their schooling through hospital-based or home-based instruction. Even though many are now stable enough to attend school, they require ongoing medical management. For most, it is necessary for teachers to be familiar with procedures that must be followed if an emergency occurs. The "if, thens" must be carefully outlined and planned in collaboration with doctors and the medical profession (Emory University Medical School. 2003; Heller et al., 2000). Although the contingencies for the "worst case scenarios" must be arranged, in most cases the accommodations required for these students are not terribly dramatic. (However, not having backup power for a student' ventilator could have disastrous results.)

Chronic Illnesses

The most common chronic illness among children is asthma, a pulmonary disease causing labored breathing that is sometimes accompanied by shortness of breath, wheezing. and a cough. It is the leading cause of school absences and hospitalizations of children (Asthma Foundation, 2005: National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences [NIEHS], 2005). A combination of three events causes the wheezing: (1) tightening of the muscles around the bronchial tubes, (2) swelling of the tissues in these tubes, and (3) an increase of secretions in these tubes. Years ago, many people believed asthma to be a psychological disorder. It, is not; its origin is physical. Many factors (such as chalk dust, dirt in the environment, dust mites, and pollen) can trigger an asthma attack, as can physical activity or exertion. Many students who have asthma are unable to participate in sports or even in physical education activities. As IDEA '04 points out, few of these students actually need special education, but they might need special accommodations so that their illness does not hinder their learning.

Infectious Diseases

In part because they are so frightening and in part because they are so dangerous. infectious diseases catch our attention. However, in many instances, occurrence is rare and the public reaction to those who contract the disease is irrational. Here's an example. The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a very serious disease and a potentially fatal viral infection that is transmitted primarily through the exchange of bodily fluids in unprotected sex or by contaminated needles. Before blood-screening procedures were instituted, the virus was also transmitted in blood transfusions. HIV is the virus responsible for acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), a deadly disease that destroys the immune system and can be communicated to an unborn child by an infected mother. From the beginning of the epidemic through 2002, a total of 9,300 American children were infected with HIV/AIDS (National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, 2004). Because of its very low prevalence among children, few teachers have a student with AIDS; We mention the disease here because of the significant media attention devoted to it. The effects of the infection in children include central nervous system damage additional infections, developmental delay, motor problems, psychosocial stresses and death. HIV/AIDS is an infectious disease, but unlike most others, such as flu and the common cold, it is serious and life-threatening. For many years, parents and educators were concerned that noninfected children could catch the disease from a classmate. It is now clear that this is highly unlikely. With proper precautions (the use of gloves when bandaging a child's cut finger and normal sanitary procedures such as frequently washing your hands), everyone at school is safe and will not catch this disease.

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