While research shows that children with juvenile arthritis who go to summer camp improve significantly--and those benefits can last for up to six months--kids just want to have fun. The reality, however, is that juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA), commonly called juvenile rheumatoid arthritis or JRA, cause your child chronic pain, stiffness, swelling and other symptoms.

So how can kids with JRA have fun without making their condition worse? Here are a few tips that may help:

  1. Find out about the camp's policies. Ask questions in advance about their support for children with chronic conditions such as JRA who need to take medications. Find out about their plans for medical emergencies, safety procedures, menu, and activity schedule. Gather as much information as possible so you can choose the best summer camp for your child.
  2. Consider a summer day camp. Stress and anxiety are normal for kids going away to summer camp, but for children with JRA, these emotions could make your child's symptoms worse. If your child has never been away to summer camp before, ease them into it gently with a day camp. He'll get to test the waters and see if camping is right for him.
  3. Sign up for an arthritis summer camp. Many states have these summer camps that offer children with JRA an experience others don't. First, your child won't feel different to other kids. Plus she can enjoy fun activities, learn about JRA, and socialize with other children who share her challenges. These summer camps are also staffed with people who are knowledgeable about your child's condition, which lightens the burden of coping with JRA.
  4. Encourage your child to participate. Summer camp isn't all about your child's arthritis. Boredom would set in pretty quickly. Even at arthritis camps kids get the opportunity to participate in a wide variety of activities—some are just plain fun, others help them to learn new skills, improve athletic abilities, be more independent, or develop social and leadership skills.
  5. Inform staff about your child's condition. When your child has JRA it can be difficult to move or to stick to an activity for the same amount of time as other kids. If staff is aware that your child has arthritis, they can help her to pace herself and be more understanding if she needs to take a break from the activities.
  6. Aim for the best disease control before summer camp. Work with your child to get his arthritis under control as much as possible before camp starts. Schedule a visit with your child's rheumatologist for an assessment in advance; changes may need to be made to your child's  medication or exercise regimen.
  7. Help your child stick to his medication and exercise schedule. Consider using natural remedies such as fish oils or flax seed oil that can relieve JRA. And feed your child a healthy diet--it charges your child's immune system and helps to reduce damage caused by this autoimmune condition.
  8. Let your child bring a supportive friend. The camping experience is usually much better if your child has a friend. It may help reduce the stress your child feels about fitting in, which could trigger a flare. Also, your child's friend can help her to not feel so alone or different when her JRA acts up.
  9. Pack assistive devices. Most children hate to feel different from their peers. But, assistive devices may ease your child's pain and discomfort, literally. If your child uses arthritis aids such as special utensils, joint braces, or insoles, make sure he takes them to summer camp to use.
  10. Give your child a watch with a timer. Even adults have a hard time remembering to take medication on time. If your child with JRA forgets to take her arthritis medications when she's at summer camp, she may have to miss out on fun activities or even ditch camp earlier. If your child doesn't already have a watch with a timer, buy one a few weeks before camp so she gets used to using it. It will help keep pain at bay until summer camp is over.