Psychologist Jenna Krook, MS, offers advice on how to become your child’s best advocate.
Dear fellow parents,
Our journey started seven years ago when our son was diagnosed at 10 years old with reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD). This mysterious and debilitating condition was overwhelming—it became the center of our lives.
Being an advocate for a sick child is a difficult role. When you face a condition as misunderstood and overwhelming as RSD, finding the time and resources to discover and advocate for treatment and intervention is a challenge. Learning what will work for your child takes time, and there is no quick answer.
Sources of strength
We have been blessed to share our journey with a family that provides us with support and guidance. Parents to an extraordinary young woman who faced RSD, survived, and ultimately thrived, they shared their experience and knowledge—which makes an enormous difference. What follows here is a summary of our collective experience that we hope will help you.
The diagnosis process
The process of getting an RSD diagnosis, or any diagnosis, requires advocacy. I know it’s disheartening to see a number of doctors who often misunderstand the condition. It takes time—which is a quandary, because a fast diagnosis is critical to recovery.
It is helpful to bring a document to all appointments that lists your child’s symptoms, doctors/specialists, descriptions of injuries, overview of previous treatments, and your questions and concerns. You may need to go to several appointments and see several specialists before you feel like you have found your “team”—the group of specialists who will help your child heal.
Become an investigator
It is essential to investigate and become knowledgeable about your child’s condition. You may find it helpful to access resources like books and articles related to pain conditions; interview specialists/doctors knowledgeable in the area of chronic pain conditions; and join organizations or foundations related to pain disorders.
Reaching out to support groups and getting connected with families that are facing the same challenge is also valuable. You will not only gain the support of others who understand your situation, but you will also gain knowledge regarding treatment options.
Because no single treatment works for everyone, you will need to continue investigating and trying new treatments. Often, the only way to find out about these options is to connect with those who have taken this journey before you.
The importance of education
One area of advocacy we found critical was educating the child in pain, as well as their siblings.
Our goal is to help our children with chronic pain learn to advocate for themselves. They can’t do this without understanding the science behind the condition. Consider providing the information in a written form along with visuals (like photos and diagrams) so your child can always return to the information when questions arise.
When we educate children, we empower them. Knowledge gives them the strength to advocate and educate others. Even more important, when children understand what is happening in their body, they can begin to understand how each treatment creates change in the body. This knowledge assists in the healing process.
Shifting the focus away from mental health
Most of us have been to doctors who look for mental health-related explanations for pain. You may find yourself educating doctors and advocating for treatments that address the pain condition rather than focus on mental health.
There is a need to provide emotional support for a child facing a chronic illness, but beware the doctor who believes that a mental health condition is the cause of the pain. Be vigilant in directing care in a manner that provides emotional support/therapeutic intervention for a child who is suffering from a pain condition, versus directing care at a mental health condition as a reason for the pain.
Keeping an open mind about treatment options is essential. Investigating alternative/naturopathic methods of treatment can be useful in developing your “team” of specialists. Be willing to advocate for these less-conventional, often less-understood treatment modalities, because they may help provide pain relief for your child.
Advocate at school
You will also have to advocate in a complicated school system. Sharing your knowledge with school staff is a fundamental step toward securing services/accommodations.
Request a meeting with school staff and support personnel. In this meeting, provide a document that educates them on the unique medical needs of your child. Offer a signed release of information so school staff can access the expertise of your specialists.
The school staff may consider developing a 504 plan, a legal document that can ensure accommodations like modified homework, extended time on assignments/tests, schedule changes, timing of classes, access to tutoring, study halls, counseling, restricted physical education, and more.
Make time for fun
Be an advocate for laughter and play. This staggering, potentially disabling condition has the ability to strip our children and our families of joy. As we search our souls to find gratitude and hope for a better tomorrow, we must keep a sense of humor, laughter, and play in the lives of our children.
On days that feel hopeless, we must find ways to be together and infuse play into our day. Including your child’s friends in these activities—finding ways to keep our children included in their circle of friends—maintains joy. Finding the strength to create joy can be one of our greatest works of advocacy.
About Jenna Krook, MS
Jenna Krook holds a Master of Science in Counseling and a School Psychology Credential. Jenna has 23 years of experience as a psychologist, both as a school psychologist and in private practice. Her efforts are focused on helping children learn social skills, increase self-esteem, manage anger, and achieve healthy emotional development—even in the face of challenges. She works hard every day to never take for granted her health and well-being as well as that of her children. Jenna lives in Walnut Creek, California with her husband, 17-year-old-son, and 13-year-old daughter.