No lasting social problems for kids with migraine
Kids who suffer migraine headaches may have more difficulty forming friendships in their elementary school years, new research shows, but by middle school they are just as popular as their migraine-free peers—perhaps even more so.
“There’s been a lot of concern that kids with chronic headaches or other pain disorders like migraine are at risk for long term social difficulties or problems in their relationships with peers,” Dr. Kathryn Vannatta of The Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio told Reuters Health. Yet little research has looked at how well these children function socially.
To investigate, Vannatta and colleagues evaluated social behavior and friendships among 69 children with migraine, including 32 elementary school children and 37 middle school children, and a group of matched control children.
A total of 1,392 students, including these children and the control group, were asked to name their three best friends among their classmates, complete five-point ratings of how much they liked each of their classmates, and do an exercise in which they were asked to “cast” classmates into several different roles.
Elementary schoolers with migraine were less likely to be identified by classmates as a best friend than their peers, and 47% had no reciprocated friendships, compared to 23% of their classmates without migraine, the researchers found.
But peers and teachers of kids with migraine didn’t rate them as being more sensitive and isolated than the control students. Teachers also saw the students with migraine as being less aggressive and disruptive.
On average, kids with migraine were out of school more often than the control group students, and their peers recognized this; they were more likely to say the students with migraine were absent from school and sick a lot. “I think the peer group was aware that something was going on with them,” Vannatta noted.
For the middle schoolers, there was no difference between the migraine and the control group in their number of friends at school. And in fact, peers considered these students to be more popular and to show stronger leadership qualities than the control group. While this finding could have been due to chance, Vannatta said, it makes it clear that the middle schoolers with migraine “certainly weren’t having problems socially.”
It’s possible, Vannatta said, that simply spending time in the company of other kids is more important for the formation of elementary school friendships, putting children with migraine at a disadvantage because they miss more school. Later on, she added, children may form friendships based on shared interests and values.
“I don’t want to completely discount the finding that for younger kids they may be at somewhat of a disadvantage,” Vannatta said. However, she added, “they’re not disliked by their peer group, they’re not seen as behaving negatively by their peer group by any means.”
Parents of elementary school-age kids with migraine might want to put some extra effort into helping their children make and keep friends, for example having classmates over, Vannatta said. But they should be aware that any social difficulties their child has likely will not persist into middle school, she added.
SOURCE: Cephalagia, July 2008.
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