Teens with Learning Disabilities
You can begin planning for your own success. It is important for you to take an active role in planning for your future. While it may be difficult for parents to let you assume responsibility and control, it is important for your future. As a person with a disability, you are more likely to be successful as an adult if you have experience making your own decisions and choices.
It is important to learn and practice self-advocacy skills. By practicing, you can become comfortable about being an effective advocate. Being a good self-advocate means that you know your rights, stand up for your rights, take responsibility for your life, and ask for help because you want or need it. By becoming a good self-advocate, you will become more independent and more able to manage your disability. This does not mean that you have to do everything alone as everyone depends on other people at different times for different reasons.
Engaging in conversation about current interests and concerns about function of orthopedic or prosthetic devices may bring to light modifications that can be made to decrease self-consciousness or accommodate needs such as sports participation. Awareness of options and ability to participate in decision-making is important.
For teens with a chronic illness or a disability, adolescence is a time of development, teenage stress and teenage struggles. Adolescence is a unique developmental time characterized by emerging independence, rapid cognitive and physical growth, and the development of an identity. Teens become concerned about physical appearance. Peer relationships and acceptance develop special significance. Chronic illness and disability may impose physical limitations and require repeat medical visits and complex medical treatments. Overemphasis on disability and lack of information may lead you to underestimate current and future personal, vocational, and economic capabilities.
Youth with disabilities face the same issues as all youth. You will experience both rewards and challenges as you pursue full participation in social activities, relationships, college, employment, and living on your own. You will have your experience with disability as you develop your interests and goals. As you develop your interests and goals, they will be the same as or similar as non-disabled teenagers.
A disability may affect you in many ways by:
- Complicating the development of independence
- Interfering with a connection to peers
- Introducing a new set of emotional conflicts during an already emotionally charged time
- Adding teenage stress with relationships due to limited social activities or increased need for support
- Imposing physical changes and limitations
- Affecting self-esteem and self-concept.
Each young person has a unique set of challenges ahead, decisions to make, and choices to choose from during the teenage years and beyond. During the teenage years, it is time to start thinking ahead about the choices you will have to make for planning the next steps you will take. You will probably be thinking about the following questions:
- What will you do when you leave school?
- What information will you need?
- What opportunities and support are there in your area to do what you want to do?
- How will you get the help you need and from whom?
- What is the kind of help you would accept – you do not have to accept help if you do not need it or it is not what you want?
- What help might be out there in the future?
- Who will be involved in the decision-making? Make sure you are at the center of the planning and decision-making?
What Parents Can Do
A parent's role in a teen's adjustment to his or her disability is critical. In addition to the health and medical care a parent can help provide, there are important efforts parents can make to incorporate disability into the family to ensure your child's adjustment to their disability. These efforts can go a long way in helping a teenager and their parents meet the challenges of a disability or illness.
Parents need to help teens adapt to their disability. This means recognizing the limitations a disability may impose. It also means continuing with life as usual, whenever possible.
A disability can cause stress to family members because of additional demands placed on the family. Family members need to maintain a commitment to all family members. As in all families, keeping communication open is helpful. Spend time together that is not focused on the disability. Siblings often feel overlooked when a brother's or sister's needs demand so much family time.
Parents can help teens learn new ways to cope with the challenges of a disability. This may be difficult if the family has not had experience with disability in the past. Discussing with a teen their experience with disability, coping with the everyday experience of disability, how disability affects him or her, and finding solutions to problems can be helpful. Teens can participate in activities, build on their strengths, and develop pride in their ability to meet challenges of teenage stress.
Often, disability interferes with routines and activities. For teens, a particularly devastating consequence can be the weakening or loss of friendships. Friends can grow apart as a result of these changes. Encouraging teens to keep involved with their peers and making extra effort to maintain connections can go a long way in helping a teen cope with a disability. Helping teens to find ways to make and maintain relationships is critical.
Looking for the positive in situations and keeping optimistic are important. This does not mean negative feelings should be ignored. Concerns and worries should be recognized. All possible positive outcomes need to be considered.
Personal Care Assistance
Families may be the primary caregivers for teenagers who need personal care assistance with routine daily care. Families may use assistance from outside sources such as friends, neighbors or personal care assistants hired by the individual with a disability or by the family. For long-range planning, it is helpful for a teenager to participate as much as possible in the process of finding, identifying, hiring, and training a personal care assistant in order to gradually learn the skills that are necessary to later manage a disability as an adult.
When to Seek Help
Coping with the challenges of a disability can be a difficult challenge for anyone. For a teen, the more their disability interferes with school, friends, and activities, the more difficult the adjustment to the disability may be. The challenges may or may not require professional help. Some teens will find support and guidance important at this time even if their usual network of family and friends is supportive. It may be useful to seek the advice and counsel of a peer with a disability or a mental health professional. If the problem is disability based, a professional with experience in the field of disability is useful and important. Professionals need to be concerned about a teens concern for privacy, confidentiality and independence. Professionals can support teens' coping, development, and health. Teens who appear depressed or who show other signs of depression may benefit from professional help.
Encourage Online provides support to youth with chronic illness and/or disabilities. It is an Internet forum for youth to share their experiences living with a chronic illness in individual and group settings. Online support makes help available to all teens and young adults with an illness or disability. It reaches youth that are not mobile because of their illness. It provides an important diversion for youth and reaches youth who find it difficult to make connections with other youth with illness. Teens benefit from listening to the experiences of others and are able to receive advice, counsel, and direction from their peers who understand what they are experiencing.
In addition to online resources parents may also call family restoration experts. Zion Educational Service has highly dedicated individuals who are committed to helping families maintain a healthy and positive relationship. By calling (888) 597- 9495 families can speak directly to one of our child placing specialists and get the assistance and advice they may need.