You may meet students who have long term or permanent medical conditions that impact on their studies. These may result in ‘hidden’ effects, such as limited or varying stamina. We list some of the most common below, and give more detailed information on certain conditions where specific risks to health may occur, but if you are unsure about the effect of a condition on study, ask the student concerned.
Examples of such health problems include: diabetes, myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS), cancer, cystic fibrosis (CF), epilepsy, multiple sclerosis (MS), hyper-mobility syndrome, HIV and AIDS, heart and lung conditions and allergies (note: hayfever is not considered to be a disability).
Some of the difficulties experienced by students with these conditions include:
- Fluctuating/worsening condition
- Inability to attend lectures or study
- Struggling to concentrate as a result of pain/medication
- Difficulties meeting coursework deadlines
- Lack of stamina
- Gaps in knowledge having missed school due to their condition
- Concerns about people finding out about their condition.
Asthma is increasingly common although it is not always severe enough to affect a student’s study. Asthmatic conditions can be affected by stress, air quality and even the cold. A computer at home may help a student on days when breathing is particularly affected. For those working in laboratories or workshops, it will be necessary to ensure adequate ventilation.
People with diabetes do not produce enough of the hormone insulin to control their blood sugar level. On rare occasions someone with diabetes can suffer from low blood sugar level. The person becomes drowsy and confused and if left can become unconsciousness. If this happens they should immediately eat some sugar or glucose. If they become unconscious, emergency help is needed.
Epilepsy is a neurological condition defined as a tendency to have recurrent seizures (‘fits’ is no longer considered acceptable terminology). Seizures may only be brief (a few seconds), known as absences and go largely unnoticed, although the student may miss key parts of a presentation or conversation and become confused. In the case of major convulsive seizures, people lose consciousness completely. If this occurs, place something soft under the student’s head, move any objects on which they might injure themselves, and make them comfortable once the seizure has finished (preferably by placing the student in the recovery position until they have regained consciousness). For helpful information and guidance about epilepsy, please refer to the Brief Guide to Epilepsy and Higher Education produced by the Young Epilepsy charity.
People with cancer or leukaemia may suffer a variety of physical and mental health issues. Although symptoms vary, students with these conditions are likely to experience fluctuations in their health and may miss lectures as a result of this or for treatment. Fatigue is likely to be a major factor, and those who are in remission may also experience ongoing side effects from past treatment. Students with cancer or leukaemia may also benefit from receiving support from welfare and/or counselling staff, or making use of helplines such as Nightline or cancer charity helplines/websites (e.g. Macmillan Cancer Support).