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Not a lot of people know that arthritis affects kids too. But in fact, arthritis affects more than 50,000 children in the United States alone.

Officially, the condition is referred to as juvenile arthritis (JA); and it covers numerous chronic, painful, and inflammatory disorders among kids less than 16 years old.       

Like osteoarthritis (OA) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA) –two of the condition’s most prevalent forms—it can be difficult to diagnose. And because a child’s immune system doesn’t fully develop until they’re 18, an autoimmune form of arthritis is especially difficult to manage.

At this point, you probably have a visual of a young girl or boy, hobbling around like an elderly man or woman. However, like OA and RA, JA’s symptoms go far beyond joint pain. It’s not uncommon for kids to have to deal with psoriasis, eye inflammation, fevers, fatigue, and inflammation of vital organs on top of joint pain—all during a stage of their life where they are expected to be active and energetic.

So as a grown up, how can you give the right kind of support for a child, sibling, or a friend who suffers from JA? Take note of the following:

1. JA is a hidden disability

Arthritis in children is a lot like arthritis in adults. It’s challenging and it’s largely a hidden disability.

Being so young makes it more difficult for their young minds to grasp why they can’t play outside with their friends; why they feel so different from their friends; why their bodies won’t allow them simply be a kid.

Early in life, it’s not uncommon for kids to hide the pain that they feel in an effort to fit in with their peers. They make an effort to smile and pretend everything is OK, when they actually feel intensely tired and in constant pain.

While they make act like everything is OK, be sure to reach out and ask them if they’re actually feeling OK. They could very well be pushing through the pain and doing more than their bodies can handle.

2. It takes a village

You know the old adage that “it takes a village to raise a child?” This is truer when you have child who suffers from JA. A big chunk of their day will be spent in school, and parents can’t really be blamed for worrying about their son or daughter. You wonder if they were pushed too hard during gym class, or if your child is getting teased because of their inability to join in typical kids activities. If they’re falling behind in class, you can’t help but think that it’s because their fatigue is making it hard for them to concentrate in class.

To that end, be sure to let the school and they’re teachers know if they have JA. They don’t have to receive special treatment due to their condition, but it pays to have extra eyes looking out for chronically ill students.

3. Be patient

JA sufferers tend to experience joint pain and extreme tiredness due to their condition. While the world expects children to be full of energy and dynamic, JA kids may need a few concessions. For example, they may need more time to get dressed in the morning. They could walk a little slower going to and from places. They may be slower when it comes to finishing their homework.

It’s important that you make JA sufferers feel included in spite of their condition and the best way to do that is to be patient with them. It’s the little things that count.

Grownups make a big impact in lives of children. A lot of JA sufferers who grow up look back fondly at adults who have shown compassion and understanding for their condition. Simply checking in on how they are doing, and making sure they feel part of the group despite their body’s limitations goes a long way.

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