For many of my patients, asthma has been a lifelong condition they regularly receive treatment for, so they often think there’s no need for education. So, I always like to start off by asking my school-age/adolescent patients what the word “asthma” means. You’d be surprised how many children are stumped by this question! Many even have a perception of asthma that is worse than what it actually is, so having children explain the condition in their own words can help health-care professionals, parents, or even teachers assess the child’s knowledge.
After we’ve defined asthma, I like to go over asthma triggers and what to do if/when children feelan asthma attack coming on. My younger patients tend to have a very difficult time coping with breathing treatments, so my goal with this group is to normalize the use of aerosol masksthrough medical play. It’s important to be patient as some kids become tolerant of their ownmask after just one session, but others take time and repetition. The goal is to make theiraerosol mask as normal to them as the brush they use to comb their hair or the toothbrush theyuse to brush their teeth. If younger patients have an extremely difficult time being compliant withtheir treatments, I encourage the caregivers to incorporate something unique and special that isonly used during treatments. For example, allowing kids to play with play - doh, haveuninterrupted tablet time, or even finger paint during their treatment will help them associateasthma treatment with something positive.
My best advice for caregivers of children with asthma is to continue reinforcing asthma education and medical play with the child as they grow older. Children are constantly developing their understanding of the world, so their understanding of asthma must grow and develop too.
Diane Morales, CCLS, is a certified child life specialist at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital in Miami, Florida. You can learn more tips about medical play and kids health at her blog, Adventures in Child LIfe.