Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis Special Needs Factsheet

What Teachers Should Know

Arthritis is a long-term condition that causes swelling and pain in the joints. Juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA), also called juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA), is the most common kind of arthritis among kids and teens. The exact cause of JIA is unknown, but research suggests that the body’s own immune system attacks, rather than protects, its own healthy cells.

JIA symptoms can appear in children from infancy to age 16. It’s often an inherited disease and is more common among girls than boys. Symptoms may flare up, then disappear for a while or even go away permanently. Symptoms, which can be similar to those of Lyme disease, include:

  • low-grade to high fever, paleness, and a rash on the skin near joints
  • swelling, pain, and stiffness in the joints of the knees, hips, ankles, neck, elbows, and wrists
  • enlargement of the spleen and lymph nodes in the neck

Students with JIA may:

  • need extra time to move from class to class
  • need extra time to turn in assignments
  • need rest periods and/or breaks to stretch throughout the day
  • need specialized seating or adaptive equipment to assist in note-taking
  • miss class time and assignments due to flare-ups, doctor’s appointments, and therapy
  • need to leave class to take medications or to see the school nurse as needed
  • have depression or anxiety
  • require a 504 education plan or individualized educational plan (IEP)
  • be targeted by bullies

What Teachers Can Do

Most kids and teens with JIA can generally do the same things as other students, academically and socially. Regular exercise, healthy eating, and taking certain medicines are recommended for treating JIA. Encourage your student to participate in all activities when possible, but modify activities during flare-ups.

Encourage peers to support their classmates with JIA by:

  • helping carry their books, backpacks, or other materials
  • taking notes or writing down homework assignments
  • assisting with moving in hallways or transportation to and from school

Talk to your student with JIA and his or her parents or guardians about sports and other physical activities. Some activities, especially impact sports, can be hazardous to weakened joints and bones.

Depression or anxiety can be problems for students with JIA, so it’s important to watch for signs of emotional distress and seek additional help, as needed.

Reviewed by: Rupal Christine Gupta, MD
Date reviewed: October 2014