Tips for Parents of Burn Survivors: Advocating for Your Child's Educational Needs

Written by Margaret Kugler, MS on August 20, 2019


A child’s burn injury can be an overwhelming experience for the entire family. During the hospital stay, it is likely that you, as a parent or guardian, sometimes felt a loss of control. Your understanding of the injury and medical procedures may have been minimal, and what you needed to learn was extensive. 

You probably advocated for your child’s care and well-being by sharing with members of the hospital staff the particulars of your child’s personality and personal needs. By informing them of his or her likes, dislikes, food preferences, and preferred comfort techniques, a team could be formed to provide the individualized care that would benefit your child most. The mutual sharing of information and collaboration by the patient–medical staff team enables everyone involved in your child’s recovery to work toward a common goal and create a more successful outcome.

Advocating For Your Child's Educational Needs

School reintegration following hospitalization can be just as overwhelming of a process. Before the injury, your child may not have needed any special school services. However, after a lengthy hospital stay, students may be academically behind their classmates. Academic and/or physical accommodations at school may be necessary. 

Even if the teacher and school staff are familiar with your child, they may not have experience teaching a child with a burn injury. Teachers may have their own fears or misconceptions, which you will have to alleviate. Now it is your turn to be the educator and inform the school staff how they can best support your child. Likewise, you will need information from them on how they plan to assist your child. 

Sharing knowledge and collaborating with the school staff is your next step in taking charge of developing a plan that will lead to successful outcomes for your child in the academic environment. You can advocate for your child by forming a “student school team.” With you and your child in the role of team leaders, you should:

  • Inform the school early on and update them frequently of your child’s prognosis while hospitalized.

  • Educate them on burn recovery and your child’s upcoming needs at school.

  • Identify which school personnel will be on your team.

  • Stress to school staff that this is the same child they knew before, even if they look different or do things differently.

  • Ask what resources and services the school will be providing.

  • Collaborate to form an education plan.

Educational Accommodations

Typically, a burn injury on its own and/or scarring are not considered disabilities that would qualify for special education accommodations. However, many schools and districts approach services differently and may have site-specific services. You and your child, working directly with the school team, can identify anticipated needs and determine the support necessary for their success in school.

If your child is returning to the classroom with functional, mobility, or cognitive needs, they  may require special services, which can include the following:

  • Accessible space

  • Personal care

  • Writing aides

  • Nursing/health aide

  • Assistive technology

  • Therapies—such as speech, or school-based physical/occupational

  • Physical education/recess activities

  • Counseling

  • Testing for special education services to establish or maintain academic goals

Keep in mind that services and plans take time to develop and get in place. However, as your child’s advocate and team leader, you can expedite the process by:

  1. Submitting a written request to the school for evaluation and testing for special education services as soon as you suspect services will be needed.

  2. Including educators, medical staff, and therapists as part of the team in planning the accommodations for the immediate return to school and long-term needs of the child.

  3. Scheduling a school re-entry presentation, such as the Phoenix Society’s The Journey Back, to educate classmates and school staff on the emotional and social transition the returning student is facing.

  4. Getting a detailed doctor’s note can be used by the school to develop guidelines indicating specific physical restrictions and necessary classroom accommodations.

Returning to regular school and activities as soon as possible is encouraged. Attending school and socializing with peers are important for every child’s development and growth. Advocating for a written school plan that outlines services for the immediate return to school will give you the control to modify and adjust your child’s needs throughout his or her childhood education years. It’s important to recognize that your child’s needs may change when transitioning to a different school or higher education grade.

Advocating for a successful school outcome benefits both you and your child. Taking charge and forming a team can help your child succeed in the school environment.


The Journey Back

Learn tools and resources to help children return to school after burn injury or traumatic loss.

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