Doreen Tabussi, a registered nurse and nurse coordinator at Hackensack University Medical Center who specializes in pediatric rheumatology, knows firsthand how juvenile arthritis, or JA, can affect children’s performance in school.
“Kids who have arthritis are teased all the time,” she says. “I’ve had kids who’ve had to change school systems because they’d been teased so much by other kids or their gym teachers don’t believe them or their teachers don’t believe in the accommodations they need.”
Tabussi volunteers in a school awareness program sponsored by the New Jersey Chapter of the Arthritis Foundation. At the request of parents, the program sends representatives to schools to where they give a 45-minute presentation about arthritis. The presentation, she says, helps children empathize with classmates who have arthritis and better understand perhaps, why their symptoms may occasionally make them late for school.
To help your kids with JA better cope with their condition, teasing and bullying, Tabussi and others recommend these tips and resources.
Do your homework. Research how to help your child cope with the challenges of their condition. Here are some resources to get you started.
- Raising A Child With Arthritis: A Parent’s Guide By Charlotte Huff (2012, Arthritis Foundation). Consider this your “how to” guide on everything from building your child’s self esteem to helping him or her cope with school bullies. The book also comes with worksheets, charts and a resources list.
- "The Spoon Theory" By Christine Miserandino. While this story is told from the perspective of a girl with lupus, Christine Citera, a youth camp coordinator for the New Jersey Chapter of the Arthritis Foundation, says she and other camp volunteers read this article to campers to help them overcome the difficulties of explaining their chronic illness to friends and classmates.
- Pacer Center’s Kids Against Bullying This website offers online games, contests and videos that teach kids how to address bullying.
- BAM! Check out this site from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for eight solid tips to help your child take a stand against bullies.
Educate. If your child is being teased at school, Tabussi suggests either calling your local Arthritis Foundation office to request a presentation to the class, or asking your child’s teacher to talk to the class about arthritis symptoms. The teacher doesn’t have to single out your child if he or she isn’t up for it, she notes. Here are some resources you can offer your child’s teacher:
- The Arthritis Foundation and the JA Alliance These links provide all the basics you and your child’s teacher need to know, including information about the disease and its limits on mobility and ideas on tailoring classroom activities around your child’s needs.
- Taking Arthritis To School By Dee Dee Miller (JayJo Books, 2002). This illustrated book – best for ages 4 to 7 years – can be read aloud to your child’s class to teach students about arthritis.
- Individualized Education Programs Children with arthritis attending public schools are eligible for individualized education programs, or IEPs, which can provide resources and assistance to modify lessons to help support your child’s achievement in school. Use this guide to learn how you can work with your child’s educators to create an IEP. For more on IEPs and school programs click here.
- Preventing and Treating Bullying and Victimization By Eric Vernberg and Bridget Biggs (Oxford University Press, 2010). Written for professionals and educators, this book distills published research into practical intervention tips.
Get professional help. If bullying is a consistent problem for you child, setting him or her up with a child psychologist or child counselor can help address the emotional fallout.
“We know that kids who are consistently bullied are at higher risk for social withdrawal, lower self-esteem, and perhaps even developing anxiety or depression and we do know how to address those problems,” says Bridget K. Biggs, PhD, senior associate consultant in the department of child and adolescent psychiatry and psychology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.
According to Biggs, a psychologist can use various methods to boost your child’s self-esteem and possibly ward off bullying.
“We know from research that kids’ risk of being victimized goes down if they have at least one good quality friend,” she says. “That’s why I often incorporate strategies on how to facilitate individual friendship: How do you join a group of kids who are talking or playing? How do you have a good phone call or text message exchange?”
Dr. Biggs suggests contacting the American Board of Professional Psychology or the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies to find an expert with board certification in child and adolescent psychology.