Achieving Educational Goals Living with Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis

Christine Miller Health Guide
  • A news article posted on Health Central this week discussed new research conducted by The Ohio State University and the Research Institute at Columbus Children's Hospital finding that children with juvenile idiopathic arthritis seem to attain a level of education and occupation as young adults similar to that of their unaffected peers


                The researchers studied the impact of juvenile arthritis on academic and occupational outcomes during the transition from adolescence to young adulthood (i.e., age 18 to 21 years).  This was a longitudinal study that at the time of the initial assessments included children between 8 and 14 years of age.  Follow-up was completed relatively soon after each participant's 18th birthday.  The study included 45 young adults with juvenile arthritis, 46 peers without the disease, and their parents.  At enrollment, each child with JIA was matched with a non-JIA classmate based on sex, race and closest birth date. Based on survey responses of the young adults, their peers and their families at the time of follow-up, the number of participants who graduated from high school, were working, and expressed plans to attend college or seek employment was similar between the participants with JRA and their peers.  

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                The researchers also found that the initial severity of arthritis, time since diagnosis and disease type had no bearing on educational or occupational attainment.  Most participants were active in the workforce. They also found no differences in terms of major educational difficulties, such as attendance, tardiness, use of special education and disciplinary action at school.  These outcomes were partly unexpected because of previous research finding that adults with JIA have similar or higher graduation rates, years of education and postgraduate degrees compared to people without JIA.  However, prior research has also found that adults with JIA may have worse occupational outcomes than non-JIA groups.  There is also somewhat conflicting research; some showing that people with JIA are significantly more likely to receive disability or unemployment compensation and other results showing that there is no difference between adults with JIA and comparison groups in terms of employment rates, disability pensions and ability to work.  Study results seem to have varied depending on the age ranges of each study's participants. The scientists also theorized that the workforce participation could be higher because young adults typically hold entry-level positions that require minimal experience and may be easier to obtain, but theorized that as job competition increases later in adulthood, adults with JIA may have more difficulty maintaining employment.


                While the researchers concluded that "broad-based" interventions to help with academic or occupational functioning may not be necessary for all children with juvenile arthritis, they did point out that further research should be conducted to study more "subtle" indicators of success going further into adulthood, such as rates of promotions salaries and job satisfaction.


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                While the study was interesting to read, what it did not cover, and what I would be most interested to know was how having JIA affected these young adults' educational and employment choices?  How did it influence what they studied in school and the types of careers that they pursue?  And subsequently, how did those choices hold up over time?


    I wanted to be a professional dancer as a young child.  But after developing foot and elbow deformities, I chose the academic route, focusing on languages and science. Then years of doctor appointments, surgeries and occupational therapy as a child seemed to make OT an obvious choice as a college major (dropping pre-med when I discovered organic chemistry was also a significant factor).  Since then I've found my niche in health policy and law (though I still have escape fantasies of being a dancer or a park ranger).  So I wonder how JIA has affected other people who grew up with it like I did.  


                How has JIA affected your educational and career decisions?  Is there a field that you felt inspired to pursue because of your arthritis?  How has it affected your ability to achieve your goals?

Published On: November 10, 2008