How to Support a Child Who Has Juvenile Arthritis
By Brian Acton
Juvenile arthritis (JA) is not a specific condition that affects young people - rather, it’s a general term that refers to many autoimmune and inflammatory diseases that occur in children under the age of 18. Although JA isn’t a single disease, it does
come with a number of challenges specific to children.
Nearly 300,000 children in the United States have some form of JA, although in many cases the disease may go undiagnosed for some time (it is often difficult for doctors to identify). July is Juvenile Arthritis Awareness Month
, a time to spread awareness about JA and support the JA community.
With that in mind, here’s how you can help support a child who has JA.
Educate Yourself About JA
You may think you know a lot about arthritis, as it frequently causes painful, stiff joints. But JA refers to many different types of autoimmune and inflammatory conditions, and symptoms vary between them. Symptoms may even manifest themselves differently from child to child.
Juvenile Arthritis Awareness Month is the perfect time to educate yourself about JA in general, and then learn about how it affects the child in your life. You can start at the Arthritis Foundation
, which has a number of fantastic resources, and then talk to the child or family members to learn more about their experiences with JA.
- Find Ways to Stay Active
Sports and other physical activities may be difficult for kids with JA; one of the primary symptoms is joint pain and stiffness, and JA can hinder physical development. But it’s important for kids with JA to stay active, as exercise can help strengthen muscles, reduce symptoms, and maintain joint mobility.
You can help by identifying physical activities that are fun and manageable for the child. A good example is swimming, which is zero-impact but works all muscle groups and builds cardiovascular endurance.
- Understand The Symptoms
One of the most common symptoms of JA is pain, but children won’t always outwardly display their pain. Even if you don’t see outside evidence of JA, understand that the child’s pain is genuine and their limitations are real. Look for clues such as a stiff walk or fatigue. On a bad day, the child might be slower, uncoordinated, or tired.
- Encourage Socialization
Children with JA may feel lonely and isolated from other kids and shut off from group activities. Try to encourage the child to participate in activities and spend time with friends. It will help them build confidence and realize that they aren’t so different from other kids.
Remember, morning stiffness and joint pain may make it difficult for the child to get to school. However, the socialization provided in a classroom setting can convey many benefits.
- Participate in the JA Community
One of the best things you can do with a child who has JA is to participate in the JA community. The Arthritis Foundation and other groups organize annual events (such as the Juvenile Arthritis National Conference
) that helps children and their families learn about medical research, educate themselves about JA, and connect with other affected kids and families. You can also participate in local awareness events or even start your own fundraising drive!