Medical conditions are not something that people look forward to and may crush the spirit of even the strongest person. However, some people find ways to be happy despite — or because of — their disabilities. But William, a 10-year-old choirboy, is an example of a child who’s found a way to live with pain.
Understanding juvenile idiopathic arthritis
William was diagnosed with juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA), which is the most common type of arthritis for kids under the age of 16. JIA is a blanket term for different chronic conditions involving inflammation of joints that can cause joint stiffness, swelling, pain, warmth, and loss of motion. Arthritis is one of the leading causes of pain and disability; more than 350 million people live with arthritis globally.
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William’s singing remedy
William has found a remedy in singing. “I feel pain in my hips, fingers, toes, feet, and knees. One night we were driving past Ripon Cathedral (in Ripon, England), and I saw it lit up, and I told mummy I want to sing there,” he said. William has been singing in the cathedral for about three years and loves it. He’s now a chorister of the senior choir, and he says singing makes the pain go away.
William’s parents’ apprehension
At first, his parents, including mom Sarah, were apprehensive, like any other parent. First, they didn’t attend the North Yorkshire cathedral or have any connection. Also, they’ve never had a singer in their family though his father plays the piano. And lastly, the biggest concern was his arthritis inflammation and how it would affect his experience.
As you probably know, choristers spend much time on their feet singing in cathedral choirs. But William enjoys “the music through his feet,” and he’s learned to cope as best as possible. Also, the people around him have made his life more bearable and fun.
The supportive team
“William finds the stone floors at the cathedral difficult, but the music director and team are brilliant. They give him time when he needs it,” his mother, Sarah, says. She may have been afraid at first, but she now sees the beaming happiness that music brings her son. “As a parent, you’re so worried about him fitting in or being in pain, but he’s singing, and it’s such a warm, proud feeling. You can’t help but smile inwardly, even in a serious service.”
The incredible 10-year-old chorister also has autism, and his arthritis diagnosis wasn’t easy. “From when he was a toddler,” Sarah says, “William’s feet were splayed inwards, and he was generally quite stiff. Then when he was six, he ended up in hospital because one day, he just wouldn’t put his foot down.”
Doctors suspected several causes of his pain, including a disjointed hip, cerebral palsy, or sensory problems since he’s autistic. But Sarah always suspected her son had arthritis because she has psoriatic arthritis and could understand some of his discomforts even before the correct diagnosis. Finally, after 18 months and several consultants, a rheumatoid doctor diagnosed William with JIA.
Balancing his needs is difficult for his parents because he also has two brothers. However, despite these challenges, the family is coping well.
The health benefits of singing
People have known singing is helpful for people with respiratory problems like asthma for some time now. It can help people get control of their breathlessness. But recently, studies have shown the health benefits of singing in more disorders such as depression, anxiety, Parkinson’s, cancer, and in this case, arthritis.
Singing releases the brain’s natural painkiller to help alleviate a person’s pain. William still goes to school thanks to several medications, but he still finds writing or playing with his mates difficult. But amazingly, he plays the clarinet and the piano. And when playing the piano, he doesn’t feel the pain he feels when writing.
“If anyone with arthritis or a child with arthritis is concerned about accessing a cathedral choir or any type of music making, please don’t hold back, because it can help,” Sarah said.