As a child matures, parents often need to modify their hopes and expectations in light of their youngster's developing skills, interests, and values, which are not always the same as their own. Mothers and fathers often worry also about their child's well-being and happiness and puzzle over what their role should be in helping the youngster achieve his full potential. Certainly parents should become their child's most devoted advocate and conscientious guide through life, helping him overcome the array of obstacles that each child must face. In terms of their physical well-being, most children are healthy. Their illnesses, while frequent, are minor and short-lived. Parents need to obtain appropriate medical care for them, help them develop health-promoting habits, and comfort them through their episodes of illness.
For some children, however, illnesses or health impairments are not self-limited but may continue indefinitely. These youngsters may have a serious physical disability, such as spina bifida or an injury-related disability; a sensory deficit such as blindness or deafness; or a chronic condition like asthma, epilepsy, diabetes, or literally hundreds of other chronic diseases of childhood. The parents of these children have a much more difficult task.
Studies show that between 10 percent and 20 percent of children have some type of long-term illness, disability, or other type of health impairment. Most of these conditions are neither life-threatening nor severely limiting in terms of activity. However, about 2 percent of children have chronic illnesses that do seriously impair their ability to accomplish the usual activities of youngsters their age, or that increase the number of days they miss from school or spend in the hospital.
Most children with chronic illnesses do well in school, develop appropriately, and achieve their goals in much the same way that other children do. Most are healthy children who happen to have a chronic illness. While their illness may create certain difficulties, with the support of their parents most lead effective and exciting lives and grow up to become productive adults.