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Transitions Between School and Hospital for Students With Multiple Disabilities: A Survey of Causes, Educational Continuity and Parental Perceptions

by Jennifer A. Borgioli and Craig H. Kennedy

Research And Practice For Persons With Severe Disabilities Vol. 28, No. 1, Spring 2003

Article Summary

Students with multiple disabilities usually have higher rates of illness and hospitalization than do other children. Because of these special health care needs, students with multiple disabilities are usually more likely to be absent from school than others. A prevalent approach for preventing academic and social regression in schools associated with hospitalization is the use of transition plans to specify and coordinate the types of educational services a student will receive during his or her absence. In this excellent paper, the authors studied the causes, educational continuity, and parental perceptions associated with students who had multiple disabilities moving from school to hospital. They obtained a sample from a southeastern part of the United States for students who had been hospitalized during the previous five years. Interviews were then conducted with the families of those students to collect information relating to their hospitalization and educational programming.

Current research suggest several benefits of using transition plans which include ensuring continuity in educational services for student and family, meeting IDEA, 1997 requirements, and maximizing the educational benefit of school services. Research on this topic, however, has been conducted primarily with pre-kindergarten-age children and children with acute or chronic illness, but no other types of disability. In the current study, the authors sought to identify why school age students with multiple disabilities were hospitalized, what types of educational planning and services they received during their school absence and what their parents thought about those experiences.

The interviews that were conducted with the families of those students that collect information related to hospitalization educational program led to a series of close-ended questions that needed to be developed. The responses to these questions revealed that 61% of all hospitalizations were for emergencies and that students were absent from school longer when hospitalizations were scheduled (38 days vs. 23 days). Only one in 46 hospitalizations had a transition plan to deliver educational services while students were absent from school.

Open ended questions from the interviews revealed two general patterns. First, parents were concerned about the absence of education services and attempted to improve service delivery. Second, parents were not concerned regarding the absence of educational services and noted the severity of the child's disability as a reason.

In this unique paper, the authors suggest that active efforts to provide transition services are needed for students with multiple disabilities when they are hospitalized. They further note that students with multiple disabilities are absent from school because of health needs, but they do not receive the same educational services received while attending school. In fact, if one extrapolates from the research literature on extended school year services, the average student that was studied in this paper missed the equivalent of one summer vacation every five years. Extended school year services were mandated by federal law for students with disabilities who are at risk for substantive regression because of lack of services during summer vacation. Borgioli and Kennedy in this paper suggest that students with multiple disabilities are at a similar risk because of their hospitalizations, even if parents do not necessarily view this as a concern. These findings suggest that school districts should actively plan for transition from school to hospital to minimize possible educational losses that might be associated with school absences.


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