Mentoring Kids with Asthma: What I Learned

For eight Mondays this spring, I’ve been on a journey with a group of kids with asthma, alongside my co-mentor, Arianne. To learn more about Asthma Pals, read this post. Now, we’re at the end of this first round of the Asthma Pals program. Each week, the kids got a mission: this week’s mission, is to “Create something to share with the group that tells us about your thoughts, feelings, and experiences of our group sessions together."

And look, I haven’t done any of the other missions...So here we go.I started my first mentorship experience with the Asthma Pals program at the Golden Gate Bridge, two days after presenting at Stanford Medicine X | ED on social support in chronic disease management. Timely. In this session, we got to know each other, and picked a name for the group: The Asthma Pikachu Avengers!


While I have many better photos of the Golden Gate Bridge, and of myself with the Golden Gate Bridge, I snapped this one at the beginning of the Asthma Pals journey—note the earphones!From San Francisco, to a hotel room in Ottawa for week 2, to my home office, to a hotel room in my hometown, and back to my home office, for 8 Mondays this spring, Asthma Pals has been a fun adventure to be on with a group of Canadian kids with asthma aged 7 to 11. Each week, these kids responded to the sessions—boldly, bravely. They were quick to articulate their thoughts, feelings and ideas with no holds barred. Immensely creative, fun, and energetic, but also respectful of one another, the kids brainstormed, encouraged one another, and empathized at a level I hope that they never “outgrow". It’s amazing to hear a kid say something like, “I was in the hospital last week,” or “I have trouble remembering to take my puffer before sports,” and hear another kid or three say “Me, too.”

Sometimes, there are no words more powerful than “Me, too."

Sometimes, there is no feeling greater than knowing people “get you”. “I was at a birthday party at a trampoline park and I had to take a break to take my puffer. It made me feel sad and left out… But then I was able to go back and have fun again. It made me feel happy when my friends came to see if I was okay.” [Paraphrased.]We get that.

Each week, after the mission is assigned, we wrap up the session by having each person share one of three things as their “last word/thought” of the week: “Today’s group was good for me because…” “One another day I would like to…” or “Right now I feel…” Let’s bring that up a level.Asthma Pals was good for me because...Let’s lay it down: going into this, I had no freaking idea what I was doing. It was the second week, when I was with Jenna, the program coordinator, in Ottawa that I learned there were PowerPoint notes pages in the Dropbox that would make my mentorship experience significantly more… smooth. And useful. So with this kind of start, Asthma Pals was clearly good for me for a variety of reasons. (Beyond the fact I may or may not have yet mastered Pen Tools in GoToMeeting…).I learned to think about asthma from different angles. Each time Arianne or I posed a question, I had to think of both my own response to that question in case the participants needed a prompt, but also about the relevance to kids. I had to think about how my own experiences, as someone diagnosed with asthma in grade 11, might be relevant to these kids who were in grades 2 to 5.

Asthma Pals also brought back to me a lot of topics I hadn’t thought on personally for a long time: who are the people who can help support me with my asthma? And even more basic than that: how am I feeling about my asthma? How do I deal with those feelings? Yes, these topics are obviously important for kids to navigate, but honestly, they are just as important for adults to work through and be conscious of, too!And also, on a less serious note, because I learned there is hope for the future: these kids were better at being respectful conference call attendees than most adults are. ;)

On another day I would like to...Start all of this again—knowing more, being better prepared—better equipped by knowing more. I would like to apply everything I learned this session with another group of kids, or even these same ones if they choose to repeat the program.

Reflecting back on this journey and the great kids we spent the past 7 Mondays with, I feel hopeful for this next generation of kids with asthma. What did I learn? I learned that asthma education should not stop in a clinic or at school. I learned that kids with asthma need peer support, social support, just as adults with asthma do. I learned--again--that there is a lot I can learn from these kids. I learned that it's all about the angle you look at things from. For me, that angle was that my experiences can definitely translate to those of kids, too. I hope the Asthma Pikachu Avengers feel the same way, hopeful, and better prepared, and carry that with them, alongside all of these lessons we learned along the way!

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