Australia: School Study on Teenagers with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

A recent study of Australian teenagers with chronic fatigue syndrome found CFS impacted their development of academic, cognitive and social skills. Students with CFS missed an average of 42% of classes over a term, 37% more than their healthy peers. The study recommends school staff be trained to understand chronic fatigue syndrome and its impact on students.

Melbourne scientists, led by Dr Sarah Knight at Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, studied 39 teenagers with chronic fatigue syndrome and 28 control subjects. Researchers gathered subjective and objective measures of school functioning, plus fatigue and emotional symptoms.

Published in Frontiers in Pediatrics (Pediatric Neurology), the study examined school participation,  academic performance and ‘school connectedness’ in students with chronic fatigue syndrome (pediatric definitition by Jason et al 2006) aged between 13 and 17. The authors acknowledge study may not be representative as participants were recruited from The Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne and required to attend the hospital in person for the academic assessment. Therefore, those who were too sick to attend were not included in the study, nor those with mild cases managed by their GP. The small sample size was also acknowledged, along with the participants being drawn from high socio-economic status families.

School absence in CFS students was an average of 42%, while in the control group it was 5%. Greater severity of fatigue was associated with lower levels of school attendance, quality of life and participation, but not academic performance. There was only a 6% difference in academic performance.

“School staff should be provided with professional development aimed at increasing their understanding of CFS and how it can impact on the school functioning of students. Given the unique needs of each adolescent, as well as vast differences across school settings, tailored and individualized school planning that addresses not only school attendance, but also strategies to minimize the impact of the illness on school-related quality of life, school participation, school connectedness, and academic outcomes, will be crucial.”

The authors said “the impact that CFS has on school functioning may place adolescents at a heightened risk of long-term maladjustment across a range of key developmental areas.”

School Functioning in Adolescents With Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

The study was funded by the Mason Foundation and Victorian Government’s Infrastructure Grant.

Read the full paper.

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