Schools Are Failing Their Chronically Ill Students: Emma B (3/5)

[Image description: ‘I Don’t Know How To Explain To You That You Should Care About Chronically Ill and Disabled Students’ is written in black text on a white piece of paper, alongside it is a drawing of Emily holding up her jumper to reveal a yellow shirt reading ‘disabled, not worthless’. Both text and drawing are cut out and stuck onto a pink background.]

Article & Artwork by Emily Bourne

This piece is part of a series on being chronically ill in school. 

Click the names below to read more

Emily Bourne | Sakara Dee | Emily Ability | Caitlin Rose

This article discusses mistreatment of disabled students by authorities and may be upsetting to read. 

[Image description: An image of Emma is on the left and on the right is a quote reading, “As a chronically ill student I felt let down by my teachers when they would have a dismissive attitude towards the severity of my illness.” At the bottom of the image is the title 'Schools Are Failing Their Chronically Ill Students'.]

Hi! My name is Emma and I have Lupus.

During school, I struggled with wavering energy levels and fluctuating symptoms in addition to cognitive impairment. This meant it would sometimes take longer for me to process and understand information compared to my classmates and that there were periods I had to take days off due to being too unwell to attend lessons. 

Because of this, I felt isolated and alienated within the classroom. 

This was made worse by the fact that, despite my symptoms, I didn't get a proper diagnosis until years after leaving education. Sometimes getting a clear diagnosis can take time and if you have doctors that dismiss your condition as something ‘not serious’; it can be particularly hard to continuously justify taking time off from college or struggling in school.

It is important that teachers believe students’ experiences irrespective of how "normal" or "fine" they look on the outside. Awareness and education around invisible illnesses need to be mandatory because ignorance negatively impacts students’ educational experiences. 

Everyone deserves a fair chance and to not have their experiences invalidated.

My school also lacked knowledge of how to conduct lessons in a way that was fully accessible for all students. For example, teachers could have had a variety of methods and examples to explain the same piece of information or concepts. 

Cognitive impairment impacted the way I understood and processed everything. Understanding that factors such as information processing, working memory, attention sustainability, and pattern recognition impact how well a student can digest information within a lesson needs to be something teachers are aware of. Throughout the school day, cognitive flexibility is required and when someone's brain gets tired or overloaded there is not much they can do and it becomes hard to stay present or be productive.

Along with increased awareness of cognitive impairments, patience and compassion are also key. Teachers allowing students to process information at their own pace and not making them feel belittled or pressured within a classroom situation is imperative to students’ emotional and mental well-being.


Read about the other stories in this series below.

 Read about my story here.
Read about Sakara's story here.

Read about Emily's story here. Read about Caitlin's story here.


About the author:

Emmanuela is a 20 year old from Sheffield. Her passions are writing about her personal, lived experiences through the lens of race and disability. (she/her)


Contact info:

Writer, Emily Bourne: Linktree, Instagram 


Emma: Instagram


Good resources!

Why Punishing School Children For Being Sick Is Ridiculous

Schools Don't Care About Disabled Students

4 Ways Ableism in My Elementary School Left Me Traumatized

A Small Victory, Letters to Fibromyalgia

One Girl, One Fibromyalgia Diagnosis

But You Don’t Look Sick

Chronically Comics

Does My Wheelchair Make You Uncomfortable?