There have been several times in my life that juvenile arthritis (JA) has made going to school difficult or even impossible. I remember once in high school, I had a severe flare in the discs of my neck. I couldn’t turn my head, look down, or even lie down comfortably. It kept me home from classes for over a week as I couldn’t even handle staring at the board. And lucky me — I had pre-SATs that week, too.
Being a student with juvenile arthritis is not easy. But it’s especially difficult for teens and young adults, who go through grueling exams, weeks of final projects, and pressure of acceptance to university. It’s not surprising that some students with juvenile arthritis experience flares around this time.
I know better than anyone else that excessive stress can cause juvenile arthritis to flare. But I’m not even going to bother suggesting that you “try to help your child reduce stress,” because I know that’s an impossible task. Students are under so much pressure to succeed and have so much demanded of them that it’s not practical to tell them to try to relax. But even then, there are a few things parents can do that make a world of difference.
It’s important that your child takes care of his or her health. While it’s tempting, it’s important not to live on coffee, microwave meals, and three hours of sleep during exams (all of which I am guilty of). Help out by keeping nutritious snacks on hand and encouraging your child to get at least a couple hours of sleep.
Parents, it’s also helpful to reduce the number of chores your child is expected to do at this time. I know — they need to learn to be responsible and balance things. But not having another thing to worry about can really help your child feel less overwhelmed. It also helps conserve precious energy for schoolwork.
Many kids with juvenile arthritis need extra time to write exams, or feel more comfortable typing than handwriting. If your child requires accommodations for exams, make sure to put in a request as soon as possible and work with the school. Ask about accommodations as far in advance as possible, in case you need to collect medical records or doctor’s notes for verification. I’ve learned from experience that you can never have enough documentation when it comes to these things!
Allow your child a good amount of time to unwind once exams are over. Not just a weekend — give them a week or two, and possibly more if they’re flaring. This advice may seem a little intense, especially if you expect your child to find a job or attend classes over the summer. But the weeks of stress and hard work can cause juvenile arthritis to flare up. It’s good to give the body sufficient time to rest and recover.
It’s not easy to go through school with juvenile arthritis. I admit there were many times I wanted to give up because I felt like I couldn’t handle it anymore. But I kept going because of the gentle encouragement of my parents, who didn’t expect perfection but just wanted me to try my best. As a student, it was the greatest gift they’ve ever given me.
Note: Juvenile Arthritis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Juvenile Arthritis News, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to juvenile arthritis.