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Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Special Needs Factsheet

What Teachers Should Know

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a disabling illness that causes extreme tiredness and weakness. It makes routine tasks like getting out of bed, dressing, and eating very difficult. It’s more common among females than males and more common among adolescents than younger kids.

CFS can affect school, work, and leisure activities, and cause physical and emotional symptoms that can last for months or even years. The cause of CFS is not yet known, but research suggests that people with CFS may have problems with their immune and nervous systems.

Symptoms can vary, and may include:

  • severe tiredness
  • forgetfulness or difficulty concentrating
  • sore throat
  • tender lymph nodes in the neck or armpit
  • muscle or joint pain without swelling
  • headaches

Students who have CFS may:

  • have extreme fatigue and headaches after exerting themselves
  • miss class time and homework assignments due to CFS symptoms
  • have difficulty concentrating and participating in the classroom
  • need extra time to take tests and hand in assignments
  • appear lethargic, rundown, and inattentive
  • have depression or anxiety
  • require a 504 education plan or individualized educational plan (IEP)
  • have difficulty socializing with peers due to missed class time and symptoms

What Teachers Can Do

CFS can affect a student’s attendance, interactions with peers, completion of assignments, and general academic success.

CFS symptoms can vary among students who have it, so it’s important to understand a student’s individual needs. Working as a team with the student, parents or guardians, administrators, and a school counselor is the best way to work toward positive outcomes.

Teachers also can help by:

  • reducing schoolwork and information overload when possible
  • assisting the student with note-taking, if necessary
  • being patient with the student, especially during morning hours when CFS symptoms are often worse
  • recommending tutoring if the student has trouble keeping up with assignments
  • encouraging physical activity and peer interaction when appropriate

Depression or anxiety can be problems for students with CFS, so it’s important to watch for signs of emotional distress and seek additional help, as needed.

Reviewed by: Rupal Christine Gupta, MD
Date reviewed: October 2014