One of the best ways for your child to combat feelings of isolation that having arthritis may bring is to meet other children with arthritis. When she does, that feeling like she’s the “only kid in the world” can melt away. 

Often, shared experiences or perspectives can make for fast friendships. Older kids or young adults with arthritis can impart wisdom about growing up that can only come from first-hand experience. Chances are that this kid-to-kid advice will drive home important points and sometimes ring more true to your child than something you, doctors and other adults have tried to convey.

Unfortunately, for many families, it’s rare to meet other families living with arthritis in their community. But there are other families like yours out there. The best way to get connected is through the Arthritis Foundation. Call 800-283-7800 or visit www.arthritis.org to find the office closest to you.

Local offices often hold events specifically for juvenile arthritis families. These can include a JA family fun day, social outings to catch a ball game or teen groups. Summer camps and conferences are also offered in some areas and there are sometimes scholarships available to defray costs.

Head to Camp

Juvenile arthritis camps – often held overnight – are developed specifically for kids with arthritis. At first, the possibility of your child staying a few nights or an entire week away from home may unnerve both of you. Don't worry – these camps are designed to help build your child’s independence and give her a fun experience that is adapted to her needs.

At arthritis camps, your child can make friends and learn new skills alongside others facing similar challenges. Activities are designed so kids don’t feel left out. At camp, kids relate to each other’s experiences and won’t feel that they have to hide or downplay the fact that they have a chronic disease. The camaraderie is instantaneous and friendships can last for years. Some campers have gone on to become camp counselors as young adults.

Although camps primarily focus on swimming, nature walking, arts and crafts and other common camp activities, some education is included. In addition to picking up some new interests, your child may learn new skills for better managing her arthritis and widening the scope of what she can do every day. 

There’s also a medical staff person onsite so when you drop your child off you don’t have to worry about her keeping up with her medications or a sudden flare – she’ll be in good hands. The bottom line: Whether your child goes to camp only once or year after year, the connections she'll make and the skills she’ll learn will bolster her confidence for years to come.

Connect at a Conference

While camps focus on the kids, conferences offer similar opportunities for meeting new friends and learning, but are designed with the whole family in mind. At these events – often held in hotels or conference centers – children are grouped with others their age and participate in fun activities while parents attend expert-led educational sessions covering a range of topics from treatment and research advances to parenting and coping tips. Families share meals together; evenings may consist of planned activities or free time to explore the host city. 

The Arthritis Foundation holds a national Juvenile Arthritis Conference annually; the location changes from year to year. In some areas of the country, regional conferences are also offered. No matter where your family lives, the opportunities for taking comfort in meeting other parents and kids, learning important information and family bonding abound.