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Juvenile Arthritis at School: 504 Plans, IEPs, and Pain Issues

Learn how special education plans can help children with juvenile arthritis thrive in the classroom.

Juvenile Arthritis: Getting a 504 Plan

Before the Williamses had a 504 Plan in place, Sam had to go to summer school because he had missed so many days -- even though his grades were good and he hadn't fallen behind in any of his subjects.

When they first approached school officials about getting one, school officials didn't think he needed one, says Williams. Sam had started treatment and began to feel much better -- and also looked much better to his teacher and other students. That complicated issues for him, his mother says, because it was hard for faculty and other students to realize that even though Sam moved around more easily, he was still in a lot of pain at different times throughout the day.

"When I first approached them [school officials], they said it wasn't something they do if a child is doing well," says Rose Williams.

Gewanter says parents should be prepared, at least mentally, for a struggle. "They say 'no' in the beginning to see if you're interested," Gewanter says.

Even if parents must persist in getting schools to cooperate, the struggle will pay off, Gewanter says.

Juvenile Arthritis in School: IEPs

Most often, students can get the help they need through the 504 plan, which focuses on physical accommodations and allows students to stay within their regular classroom and follow the curriculum that other students within that classroom follow.

Another plan for some students is an Individualized Education Program, or IEP, which allows a student to follow an individualized plan under the services of the school's special education program. The IEP option generally means that a student needs special education because the student's disability impedes the ability to learn. An IEP is also legally binding.

Juvenile Arthritis: Looking Ahead

Williams reminds parents that medications do work in most cases. Also, some children do enjoy periods of remission, Gewanter says, and today's drugs have made a dramatic difference.

In the case of Sam, now 11, his hands are back to normal, even though he still experiences pain. And some days, there are flare-ups.

Last fall, however, Sam had to worry more about pop-ups and bases on balls than his juvenile arthritis. He was back at the ballpark, with no hands that were in pain. Instead, he was the pitcher in a game of the Dixie Youth World Series.

"Stay hopeful," Rose Williams says. "It will get better."

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Reviewed on May 20, 2009

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