I was a dedicated, ambitious student. But I don’t think I made a great first impression on my teachers. Often, I was exhausted halfway through the day and reluctant to participate in games that required running.
Juvenile arthritis (JA) made it difficult to get into the swing of a new school year. My teachers didn’t always correlate my behavior with my health.
Teachers, if you have a student with JA, I challenge you to look at things from their point of view. While parents or caregivers should schedule a meeting to review necessary accommodations, compassion from your side will make things more manageable. I urge you to keep these issues in mind, especially during the first week of school.
Penmanship may not be ideal
Please bear with sloppy handwriting. While it’s true that practice makes perfect, repetitive movements irritate already-painful joints in the fingers and wrists. It may be challenging to hold a pencil while flaring.
Kids with JA benefit from patience and flexibility. Having extended time and thick pens with grips can help with handwriting. Many kids with JA prefer to type their papers, and some use speech-to-text technology so they don’t tire out their hands.
Students may be reluctant to carry their books
I nearly cried one year when all my teachers required us to bring textbooks to class every day. Carrying a heavy backpack can be painful, especially for those with juvenile ankylosing spondylitis. The weight of textbooks, binders, and workbooks adds up quickly. As a student with JA, I was almost always in agony from the weight of my backpack. And that affected my learning.
If there are extra textbooks on hand, allow a child with JA to keep one book at home and one at school. Or photocopy the pages your student will need for that day so the textbook can be left at home. You could also allow them to share a book with a friend. Any solution is better than carrying a loaded backpack.
Kids may face bullying, and they need your help
Keep an eye out for bullying. Unfortunately, kids with JA face bullying that’s not obvious. At first, they may not be chosen for games or teams because of clumsiness or limping. Later, they may be left out of group activities because of frequent absences, or teased because of accommodations. “Friends” may think it’s funny to tease a child with JA by poking them in painful spots such as the back or hand.
Be an ally for students with JA. While you can’t always make kids behave, you can help your student feel less alone. A friendly conversation is powerful.
Compassion is a lesson for life
Teachers, back to school can be a difficult time for kids with JA. After a leisurely summer, they may have a hard time with the new routine. Overpowering fatigue and pain can make a child standoffish or unwilling to participate. You may form a negative first impression. But keep in mind that juvenile arthritis is an autoimmune disorder, and your student is fighting a battle every day.
Eventually, most of my teachers realized I was hardworking and dedicated to my studies. But it took time for us to get to know each other. There’s a special place in my heart for the teachers who went out of their way to help me. Those teachers taught me so much more than math and English: They taught me what it means to be a compassionate person.
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.