How can MS affect the life of a child or teen?

Children and teens with MS, and their families, face many challenges. Here are some of the issues they may face, and some tips on how to cope.

MS is rare in children and teens, so there are fewer people of the same age who can understand what they're going through. Joining a support group or a web-based social networking program can help kids and teens with MS get in touch with each other. The MS Society of Canada, together with the National MS Society, offers a program called "Young Persons with MS: A Network for Families with a Child or Teen With MS." It provides a support network for children with MS and their families.

People with MS often "look fine" even though they are experiencing MS symptoms. This, combined with the disease being rare, makes some people think that young people with MS are pretending to be sick. Educating people in the child's life, such as friends, teachers, and other caregivers, may help get rid of this misconception.

MS symptoms may make it harder for children and teens to do the same activities as other people their age. But there are ways for children and teens with MS to stay involved. Young people can tell good friends about the condition, so they will understand why they may be feeling too tired to go out or are unable do a certain activity. Young people can also use assistive devices to help keep up regular activities as much as possible. If there are certain things the child or teen has trouble doing because of MS, encourage them to find another activity that is easier but still lets them see their friends and keep up their social life.

People with MS may be more likely to have depression or anxiety. This can happen to children and teens too. MS is an unpredictable disease, which can make things worse by causing feelings of uncertainty about the future. Family and friends can help by being supportive and reassuring, and offering a sense of security. They can encourage the child or teen with MS to discover who they are and not let the condition define them.

MS treatment often involves medications given by injection. Younger children may have trouble learning how to self-inject. In this case, parents or other family members can learn how to give the injections. If the child or teen is living away from home, for instance at camp, they may have trouble self-injecting in front of their friends. Let one of the camp supervisors know about the child's condition, and encourage the child to talk to their friends about their condition so that the experience is less frightening.

On the positive side, many young people say that they have learned a lot from MS. The condition has taught them to be stronger, more compassionate, more flexible, and more mature. With help and support from their loved ones, children and teens can rise to meet the challenge of MS.

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