Looking After a Child With Arthritis Finding out that your child has arthritis, can come as a shock to parents and the first few months after diagnosis can be a worrying time. You are not alone; it is estimated that as many as 1,000 children in Ireland have some form of arthritis (the most common form is juvenile rheumatoid arthritis). With good care, most children lead a full and active life and can avoid significant joint damage. In Ireland, there are a number of support services that can help you manage your child’s arthritis. Understanding arthritis If your child has been recently diagnosed, you may still have a number of unanswered questions. It is important to understand the condition and the possible hurdles facing your child in their daily life. This knowledge will help you take the necessary steps at home and at school to improve your child’s quality of life and to successfully manage any pain they may have. Arthritis Ireland’s (www.arthritisireland.ie) Juvenile Arthritis programme provides education, information and support to children and young people with arthritis and their families and friends. Joint protection, physical therapy and pain relief Your child’s treatment programme will usually involve a number of healthcare professionals. Along with taking prescribed medication there are also several other strands to management. Both physiotherapy and occupational therapy are important in minimising joint damage in young children. The difference between an adult and a child with arthritis is that a child’s tissues are still growing which allows for healing and repair of joint damage. Children may experience pain during routine physical activities. A physiotherapist can develop a routine involving stretching and other exercises to ensure a child keeps active. An occupational therapist may recommend that your child uses a splint. A splint at night (resting splint) and during naps will hold inflamed joints, such as knees and wrists, in a good position. Medications will help treat your child’s inflamed joint, but there are also simple techniques you can use to help your child manage their pain. Hot baths or showers, a warm bed, range-of-motion exercises, and hot packs can relieve morning stiffness. In addition to joint problems, some children with particular type of arthritis may have problems with inflammation of the eye and therefore should have their eyes checked regularly. Dealing with your child’s frustrations Juvenile arthritis may restrict your child from participating in sports and other activities. This can be frustrating for a child who wants to be like their peers. The attitude and positive response from parents and family are important to keep your child healthy, both emotionally and physically. Children should be encouraged to be as active as possible. Encourage their talents and promote their independence and confidence. It is extremely important that your child’s social development is as normal as possible. Children who cannot participate in activities their friends enjoy, may feel isolated and can become depressed. Communicating with schools Discussing your child’s arthritis with their teacher and any issues that might arise at school is helpful. In addition to the staff and teachers having an awareness of any restrictions arthritis might cause, there are several ways that a school might be able to assist your child: Teachers may be able to arrange for your child to take part in alternative low-impact activities during physical education classes. The school could organise alternative ways for testing your child’s abilities. For example, class work can sometimes be done orally if a child has pain in their hands or wrist from writing. During playtime, arrangements can be made for your child to play inside with some companions, especially if he/she is experiencing a flare-up or if the weather is cold. The teacher can supervise your child taking medication that may be necessary during school hours. If your child’s arthritis is sufficiently severe or there are other children with disabilities, your child’s school may be able to apply for resources from the National Council for Special Education (www.ncse.ie). The NCSE liaises with the health sector to provide resources (such as special transport) to schools to meet the needs of children with disabilities. Arthritis Care in the UK publishes an online magazine called ‘No Limits’ aimed at young people with arthritis. Arthritis Ireland also publishes ‘Arthritis in Teenagers’, a booklet about juvenile idiopathic arthritis aimed at 13-20 year-olds. Further Information Arthritis Ireland publishes information on arthritis. ‘When Your Child Has Arthritis’ is a booklet for parents and ‘When A Child Has Arthritis’ a booklet for teachers. ‘Tim has Arthritis’ is a booklet about JIA aimed at children aged 4-8 years old. Another UK organisation, the Children’s Chronic Arthritis Association (www.ccaa.org.uk) also provides helpful information for parents of children with arthritis.