Chronic Illnesses

What are Chronic Illnesses?

Students affected by chronic illnesses may have what is known as systemic disabilities. Systemic disabilities are conditions where there is a malfunction of one or more of the body’s systems: respiratory, immunological, neurological, and/or circulatory. These disabilities are often unstable, resulting in the need for appropriate accommodations.

Some examples of chronic illnesses that may cause systemic disabilities are:

Cancer is a malignant growth that can affect any part of the body. Treatment can be time consuming, painful and may at times result in a permanent disability.

Diabetes Mellitus causes a person to lose the ability to regulate blood sugar levels with their own insulin. People with diabetes mellitus often need to follow a strict diet and may require insulin shots. If a student experiences a diabetic reaction they may experience confusion, personality changes or even loss of consciousness. In extreme cases, diabetes can cause vision loss, cardiovascular disease, kidney failure, stroke or the amputation of limbs.

Epilepsy/Seizure Disorder causes a person to lose consciousness. Episodes or seizures may vary from "petit mal" to the less common "grand mal." Seizures can be controlled and monitored through medication and are normally not emergency situations.

Epstein Barr Virus/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/Fibromyalgia are autoimmune disorders that can cause extreme fatigue, loss of appetite and depression. Any type of physical or emotional distress may affect students with these conditions.

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV+), which causes AIDS, can inhibit a student from warding off minor illnesses and infections. Symptoms vary greatly and people with HIV or AIDS are often stigmatized.

Lyme’s Disease is a multisystemic condition which can cause paralysis, fatigue, fever, dermatitis, sleep disorders, memory dysfunction, cognitive difficulties and depression. Lyme’s disease is caused by the bite of a tick.

Lupus Erythematosis can cause inflammatory lesions, neurological problems, excessive fatigue, flu-like symptoms that never seem to go away, impaired cognitive ability, connective tissue damage and mobility impairments.

Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS) often results from overexposure to chemicals over a long period of time. A person with MCS can become overly sensitive to chemicals found in everyday environments. Reactions can be caused from such ordinary things as cleaning products, pesticides, vehicle exhaust, tobacco smoke, room deodorizers, perfumes and other scented products. Though the reactions vary from person to person, the most common reactions are nausea, rashes, lightheadedness, and respiratory distress.

Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a progressive neurological condition with a variety of different symptoms, such as loss of strength, numbness, vision impairments, tremors and depression. The degree and intensity of MS symptoms vary from person to person and from day to day. One day a person may be extremely fatigued and the next day feel much stronger. Extreme temperatures can also adversely affect a person with MS.

Muscular Dystrophy is a group of diseases in which the muscles progressively weaken and shrivel away. The most common type starts in childhood and initially affects the muscles of the shoulders, hips, calves and thighs.

Renal Disease/Failure can result in the loss of bladder control, extreme fatigue, pain and toxic reactions that can cause cognitive difficulties. Some students with renal disease are on dialysis and must adhere to a rigid schedule.

How can the professor help?

Each illness affects each student in a unique way and accommodations that may work for one student may not necessarily work for the next. Therefore, when in doubt on how to best assist a student ask him/her or contact the Disability Services Office.

The following are a list of general accommodations that have worked for students in the past.

  • Conveniently located parking spots
  • Notetakers
  • Extended time to complete assignments or exams
  • Modified course or workload
  • Flexible deadline
  • Early syllabus and exam modifications.
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