While I like to watch sports, I’m not an athlete by any means. I’m quite clumsy, and having juvenile-onset arthritis makes running or jumping difficult.
When I was in school, I often watched from the benches as my peers played games in gym class. It was fun until someone would point and ask, “Why is she getting special treatment?” That’s when I would blush and hide behind the cover of a young adult novel.
One of the worst parts about having an invisible illness is when people underestimate how much it affects you. Some doubt whether you are sick at all. Sometimes when kids with JA need extra help, people think they’re using their illness as an excuse. Accommodations such as sitting out of gym class, having extra time to take notes, or having a set of books in the classroom can appear to be “special treatment” to someone who doesn’t understand.
I don’t want this so-called ‘special treatment’
When I was growing up, JA sometimes made it impossible to participate in activities that others found unpleasant. I never had to run laps in the gym because the impact was too much for my joints. And my parents have always carried the heavy groceries while I take the lighter bags.
It hurts when others question if I am getting special treatment by “using the arthritis excuse.” It’s not special treatment to need to sit out of activities that trigger pain or even flares — it’s respecting your body’s limits. And JA isn’t an excuse — it’s a serious autoimmune disease.
I wish others knew that I would give anything not to have to sit or need extra help. I never thought running laps in gym class looked fun, but I always wished that I was able to do it. And while it’s thoughtful of my parents to take in the heavy groceries, all I want to do is help them out.
But accommodations are a good thing
There are so many ways to combat ignorance about JA. There are books you can read to your child’s class and packets you can hand out to teachers. But I think the most important thing you can do for your child is to build their confidence. Reassure them that any accommodations they have are not special treatments, but are there to help them and make life more comfortable. Teaching kids to accept their limits and set boundaries confidently will carry them through the rest of their lives.
Working on having a positive attitude toward self-care has improved my life in so many ways. There are still days when the small remarks get to me. But I remind myself that the accommodations I have at work are necessary, keep me healthy, and increase my productivity. Thinking about the positives helps me focus on living a productive life instead of feeling guilty about what others think.
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.