The dilemma of medical privacy at school

We are pleased to have Aaron Likens back as a guest blogger. Aaron was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome (as was the diagnosis back then, but now Asperger’s is considered  Autism Spectrum Disorder) at age 20 and is now the Autism Ambassador for Easter Seals Midwest.

What is fair?

by Aaron Likens

Aaron LikensA woman who heard a presentation I’d given in Jefferson City, Missouri, left a comment to the guest post I wrote here last year and asked my advice regarding a situation in her daughter’s classroom.

Seems there is a student in her daughter’s classroom who has a learning disability or condition of some sort, but that’s it: the student’s issue has not been defined for everyone else. Other students in the classroom witness this other student breaking rules without repercussions, and they see this as favoritism.

This brings up a tricky issue that I think we are going to see more and more of. In my response to her comment, I called it a “no-win” situation, but now I’m not so sure I like that terminology. Let’s go over the issues:

  1. It could be said that if the other students were made aware of the issue there could be more understanding, compassion, and empathy.
  2. However, a school cannot disclose medical information they are aware of because individuals are entitled to medical privacy.
  3. As students grow up and leave school, they’ll come across individuals that may have a disability that is undisclosed.
  4. So that happens in real life, but in the classroom, is it right?

The thing that makes this so tricky is that there are as many wrong answers as there are right ones. Medical privacy is important, but in this example, who can blame the other students for wondering why this person gets unspoken special treatment? Doesn’t everyone have to follow the rules? With zero information, the other students may wonder why certain rules only apply to certain people. Is this right? Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t.

Looking from the parents perspective, I can imagine they might be afraid of the stigma that could come from disclosing the diagnosis. They may fear it could lead to needless bullying of their child. But as a person with Asperger’s, this is tricky to write. I hope you, the blog reader, can see the dilemma here. It’s one that I think will continue to grow and grow and I don’t think there is one single answer.

When asked about an issue like this at the presentations I give, I say, “fair isn’t what’s fair for all, but what is fair and needed for each individual.” But when the rest of the classroom has zero awareness of an individual’s learning disability or condition, it could create an isolating experience, and that may not be fair, either.

Tell us what you think in the Comments section below.

Plus, see how one child with autism is succeeding in school thanks to his Individual Education Plan, or IEP.


Comments may not reflect Easterseals' policies or positions.

  1. Sherrie C. Says:

    Hi Aaron,

    You are a true winner and inspiration. My 4 year old has been diagnosed with a severe speech delay since the age of 2. She currently attends the Easter Seals Murray Development Center in Tampa, Florida where we have experienced discrimination from administrators and a lack of caring for the teachers who take their time with our students. My daughter’s teacher, Ms. Shenell is awesome with my daughter and has taught her so much. After reading your story, I know we have made the right decision to keep her at Easter Seals with a patient, caring, and knowledgeable teacher.

    Best Regards,

    Sherrie C.