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The Chronically Ill Child

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Joey, now 16, was 11 years old when he was diagnosed with leukemia. As can be imagined, the past five years have been an emotional and challenging time for Joey as well as his parents, Joan and Roger, and sister, Susan.

The news that a child has a chronic and possibly life threatening illness is undoubtedly traumatic for everyone concerned. The sick child and his parents can, at various times, be consumed with feelings ranging from fear, anger, guilt and confusion to profound sadness.

It is no doubt difficult for a parent who has just learned that a child is sick to develop a long-term plan to deal with the implications of chronic illness. Yet, such a plan is necessary. Research shows that many children suffering from diseases including cancer, cystic fibrosis, juvenile diabetes and severe asthma are prone, as a result of their illness, to develop psychological and social problems.

Parents and other family members can do much to offset this possibility. One of the first actions a parent can take is to talk openly about the child's illness. Talking simply but frankly to a young child about his illness will do much to alleviate his fears and maintain his trust. Meanwhile, providing information to an older child will also help her feel less fearful. It will also enable her to take some responsibility for managing her treatment.

It's also important to communicate information about your child's condition to other family members as well as to your child's friends and school. When well children have an opportunity to understand the implications of a disease, either through an in-school discussion or by visiting an ill child in hospital, they are less likely to tease a youngster who returns to the classroom wearing a wig to hide her baldness. As soon as medically possible, a chronically ill child will want to return to school and otherwise resume a normal life. Over long absences from school can lead to school avoidance and social isolation.

An abundance of local and national support groups are available to help parents and children deal with chronic illness. Such groups are particularly invaluable for newly diagnosed youngsters who will have the opportunity to meet other young people who, although ill, continue to live full and rewarding lives
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