Thousands of Central Texas kiddos are heading back to school soon.
While they will all have a lot on their plates these next few weeks – learning new teachers, making new friends, maybe even having to navigate a new school – children with autoimmune disorders, such as juvenile arthritis (JA), will have additional challenges.
JA is a common autoimmune condition affecting nearly 300,000 children and teens in the United States. The main symptom of JA is severe inflammation of the joints. This inflammation can cause the following side effects which can make being at school, or any physical activity, challenging:
- Joint pain and stiffness
- Decreased mobility
- Frequent fevers
Board-certified pediatric rheumatologist Dr. Ruy Carrasco and pediatric nurse practitioner Shelby Brooks, CPNP-PC are experts in the diagnosis and treatment of JA. Here are five tips they recommend for helping your student have a great start to the new school year:
Ensure their treatment plan is current.
Maintain regular appointments and open communication with your child’s pediatrician and rheumatologist to ensure their treatment plan, therapies, and medications are all up to date before school starts. Taking medications as directed is essential in managing painful flare-ups, and try to avoid starting any new treatments or medicines right before or during the first few weeks of the new year.
Reach out to school staff ahead of time.
It is important that your child’s teachers know about their JA, as well as other staff like the school nurse, counselor, and coaches. The more people who are aware of their condition, and know how to help them while at school, the better supported your child (and you!) will feel.
Talk to any administrators also about special considerations for things like extra time needed for passing between periods and securing a locker location that is at a comfortable height and distance from classrooms.
And make sure the nurse has any medications needed or safe pain relievers on hand, like cold or hot packs, to provide comfort during the day.
Encourage ‘body breaks’ at school.
Staying still and seated at a desk all day is difficult for most children, especially those with JA who are prone to joint stiffness. Ask their teacher if they can have special, short breaks built into class time where they are able stretch and walk around if needed. (Many teachers may already schedule time in the day for this as frequent movement for kids is thought to improve focus and learning.) Our team at Pediatric Rheumatology Consultants can help develop a 504 plan for school accommodations when needed.
Stock up on special school supplies if needed.
Some children with JA might opt for using a rolling backpack which is easier on their body, along with securing two sets of textbooks to eliminate lugging them back and forth between school and home. Or you may want to inquire about your student being able to bring a laptop or recording device for taking notes if it’s too strenuous for them to keep up via handwriting.
Keep tabs on mental health going into the new school year.
Speak with your child about what they are excited about for the coming year, and talk about what their fears may be. Make a plan to help them achieve any goals they’d like to set in and out of the classroom as well as have a plan to cope with harder days when they feel like their body is not cooperating or they are not accomplishing as much.
Also remember that no child wants to feel different from their peers, so encourage them to get involved and join activities that you know they will enjoy and excel at despite their JA.
Pediatric Rheumatology Consultants treats a wide range of autoimmune disorders and diseases of the musculoskeletal system in children and teenagers. To schedule an appointment with our team, visit us online or call 512-494-4000. Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Instagram.