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Baltimore, Md--3/14/15--Left to right, Alexandra Schuckman, a volunteer from Ellicott City, helps William Fitch, 9 , of Glenwood, experience double vision as his sister, Emma, 6, and father, Keith Fitch, watch. They are attending "A Day For Families Living with MS" hosted by The Johns Hopkins Multiple Sclerosis Center and dreamMakerS, a nonprofit offering support to children whose parents have MS. Kim Hairston/The Baltimore Sun--#7352
Baltimore, Md--3/14/15--Left to right, Alexandra Schuckman, a volunteer from Ellicott City, helps William Fitch, 9 , of Glenwood, experience double vision as his sister, Emma, 6, and father, Keith Fitch, watch. They are attending "A Day For Families Living with MS" hosted by The Johns Hopkins Multiple Sclerosis Center and dreamMakerS, a nonprofit offering support to children whose parents have MS. Kim Hairston/The Baltimore Sun--#7352 (Kim Hairston / Baltimore Sun)

The children slipped on gloves before attempting to awkwardly button up oversized shirts with long sleeves — an exercise designed to simulate what it's like to get dressed when you have multiple sclerosis, a disease that attacks and disables the central nervous system.

The activity was part of A Day For Families Living with MS at Johns Hopkins Hospital on Saturday. Sponsored by dreamMakerS, a nonprofit organization that offers educational and support programs for children of parents who have MS, the event drew more than 110 attendees and offered families the chance to share experiences of living with the disease. Families also took part in question-and-answer sessions with staff from the Johns Hopkins Multiple Sclerosis Center.

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Each of the children trying to button a shirt had at least one parent diagnosed with MS.

Tomas Flores Garcia, 10, of Rockville, tried not only buttoning a shirt with gloves but also moving with weights on his arms. The children also attempted walking with a swim flipper on one foot and looking through a prism that simulates double vision.

Tomas' mother, Angela Patricia Garcia Gomez was diagnosed with MS, and he said that he already had a sense of the challenges she faces daily.

The exercises, called symptom sympathizing, helped underscore the point.

"I need to help her out more," Tomas said.

Liza Sulinski of Bethesda, founder and president of dreamMakerS, said she started the organization to help students with challenges she faced as a child of a parent with MS.

"As a kid there were a lot of times when I had questions and concerns and I didn't understand things," said Sulinski, who is also an elementary school teacher in Montgomery County. "There were support groups for adults with MS, but there were no opportunities for kids."

The disease usually strikes people between the ages of 20 and 40, she said.

"It's usually diagnosed [at an age] when people are having kids," said Sulinski, adding that the children attending Saturday's event ranged from 16 months to 22 years old.

"The interesting thing that we face as an organization is that a lot of times parents don't want to talk to their children about MS," she said. "Or they don't want other people to know, so they just tell their children they're sick. I hope things like this will help it become de-stigmatized."

The event included three different programs each for adults and children. The kids crafted what Sulinski called "mindfulness jars," containers filled with different colored water and glitter.

"It's similar to a snow globe," Sulinski said. "When you're upset, you can shake it around, and by time it's calmed down you've really calmed down if you just sit and watch it."

Adult sessions included support components on ways to talk to children about the disease and the benefits of their own exercise and movement.

Erin Fitch of Glenwood, who has been diagnosed with MS, said her family has been coming to the event for a couple of years so her children can be around others in similar situations. Her son William Fitch, 9, was among several children who readily took part in the simulation activities.

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"I liked putting things on to feel what it felt like" to have MS, he said.

"They have learned to understand that everybody's different," said Erin Fitch. "If you have certain challenges in life that make things a bit trickier, it's not necessarily always a bad thing. It's just something we have to figure out a different way to do."

Scott Newsome , director of Johns Hopkins Neurology Outpatient Services, said he could relate to experiences the children faced, being the child of a single parent who was diagnosed with MS.

"It's difficult to tell your friends or even loved ones that aren't there living with your mom or dad how it is day to day, living with a person with MS," Newsome said. " To have an organization where you can connect children and young adults who are going through the same experiences as I did is invaluable."

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