Background: Little is known about the school experience of children with tracheostomy tubes. These children may represent a population that qualifies for special services in school. Understanding how tracheostomy affects school-aged children may provide information needed to develop programs that provide these children with invaluable experiences.
Objective: To understand what children with tracheostomies experience in school as it relates to tracheostomy care and how their condition affects academic achievement and social adjustment.
Methods: We identified a cohort of 38 eligible school-aged children with indwelling tracheostomy tubes for ongoing upper airway obstruction through the North Carolina Children's Airway Center. A questionnaire was developed to assess support of their medical condition throughout the school day. Twenty-three patients responded to the questionnaire.
Results: School experience for a child with a tracheostomy varied. Approximately half the children attended special needs classes, the other half were in mainstream classrooms. Speech services and Passy-Muir valves were used in 43% and 57% of cases, respectively. Over half the students were excluded from physical activity because of the tracheostomy. Most students missed at least 10 days of school for medical care in an academic year. Fifty percent of the students reported attending schools where school personnel had no training in tracheostomy care. In some cases, a trained nurse accompanied the child to school to help with tracheostomy care. In other cases, the child coped with tracheostomy care alone.
Conclusions: As children with special medical needs are increasingly incorporated into mainstream schools, it is important to understand the potential hurdles they face in managing tracheostomies. In particular, school personnel should have the ability to provide basic care for students with tracheostomies. Student speech and educational outcomes require further investigation and analysis.