Chronic Health Conditions

The term chronic health condition is used to refer to any health condition, disorder, disability, illness, or syndrome that is experienced over an extended period of time, and is not considered temporary in nature. Chronic diseases “usually develop slowly, last a long time, and are often progressive. For many chronic diseases, there is no cure (Vancouver Island Health Authority, 2013).”

Common chronic health conditions may include, but are not limited to conditions such as asthma, arthritis, multiple sclerosis, cancer, colitis, Crohn’s disease, diabetes, epilepsy, fibromyalgia, and HIV/AIDS.

Chronic health conditions can cause ongoing difficulties such as fatigue or chronic pain, but can also become acute, significantly impairing a student’s work performance for a few hours or several days. Additionally, the use of medication frequently entails unpleasant side effects.

Students with chronic health conditions may experience symptoms such as difficulty concentrating or memorizing, changes in energy levels, or chronic pain. Since health conditions have different causes and can affect the neurological, circulatory, cardiovascular, immune, endocrine, or digestive systems, they require ongoing medical follow-up, and may have an impact on the student’s academic performance and attendance.

One of the most common characteristics shared by those with different chronic health conditions is the fact that symptoms fluctuate over time. They often experience increased symptoms due to the course of their illness but symptoms are also increased by stress. As a result of these characteristics, the most commonly needed accommodation for students with chronic health conditions is increased flexibility in the academic environment. This can include longer writing times for tests, extensions on assignment due dates, some flexibility around class attendance, provision of breaks during class time, and spacing of exam dates or rescheduling of exams when needed.

Students who experience chronic health conditions may also face prejudice and stigmatization. As with many invisible disabilities, some people may hold unfair and negative attitudes about people with chronic illness, including assumptions that the individual is faking or exaggerating symptoms, that they expect special treatment, or they take advantage of others.

For more information on the impacts of this disability and classroom accommodations see Chronic Pain, Fatigue, Attention/Concentration, and, Mobility.