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A randomized field trial of a child-centered model of training for self-management of chronic illnesses was conducted of 355 Spanish-speaking school-aged children, between 6 and 15 years old, with moderate to severe asthma and epilepsy, in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The model, based on play techniques, consists of five weekly meetings of 8–10 families, with children's and parents' groups held simultaneously, coordinated by specially trained teachers and outside the hospital environment. Children are trained to assume a leading role in the management of their health; parents learn to be facilitators; and physicians provide guidance, acting as counselors. Group activities include games, drawings, stories, videos, and role-playing. Children and parents were interviewed at home before the program and 6 and 12 months after the program, and medical and school records were monitored for emergency and routine visits, hospitalizations, and school absenteeism. In asthma and epilepsy, children in the experiment showed significant improvements in knowledge, beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors compared to controls (probability of experimental gain over controls=.69 for epilepsy and .56 for asthma, with σ2= .007 and .016, respectively). Parent participants in the experiment had improved knowledge of asthma (39% before vs. 58% after) and epilepsy (22% before vs. 56% after), with a probability of gain=.62 (σ2=.0026) with respect to the control group. Similar positive outcomes were found in fears of child death (experimental 39% before vs. 4% after for asthma, 69% before vs. 30% after for epilepsy), as well as in disruption of family life and patient-physician relationship, while controls showed no change. Regarding clinical variables, for both asthma and epilepsy, children in the experimental group had significantly fewer crises than the controls after the groups (P=.036 andP=.026). Visits to physicians showed a significant decrease for those with asthma (P=.048), and emergency visits decreased for those with epilepsy (P=.046).
An 18-item Children Health Locus of Control Scale (CHLCS) showed a significant increase in internality in experimental group children with asthma and epilepsy (P<.01), while controls did not change or performed worse 12 months after the program. School absenteeism was reduced significantly for those with asthma and epilepsy (for the group with asthma, fall/winterP=.006, and springP=.029; for the group with epilepsy,P=.011).
The program was successful in improving the health, activity, and quality of life of children with asthma and epilepsy. The data suggested that an autonomous (Piagetian) model of training is a key to this success, reinforcing children's autonomous decision making.