Adolescents with Disabilities

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Psychosocial Issues and Coping Strategies for Adolescents with Disabilities

Adolescence is a time of change. It is a universal fact, meaning that everyone experiences a time of “growing up”. Physical maturation as it first occurs around age 12 or 13 has its own definitive term—puberty. There are also marked changes in cognitive processing, emotional maturity, and social interactions. The influx of changes can be overwhelming at best, tumultuous at worst. The additional stress of having a disability or chronic illness while growing up generates some distinctive concerns and worries. Subjects relating to identity, relationships and adulthood are most prominent in the thought-world of these teens. Deep-seated anxiety, depression, dependence and poor self-esteem can result for those who do not learn strategies for coping. Problems specific to teens with disabilities or chronic illness are manageable with a range of coping strategies adaptable to the individual. Identity

While a teenager may be unaware of the ever-looming question of self-identification, it underlies much of the distress experienced throughout the teen years. Unable to cognitively process the questions, “Who am I?” and “Who do I want to be?” at a very deep level during childhood, the exercise of self-reflection begins with early adolescence. The teenager moves away from childhood towards adulthood and feels the confusion of being “in between”. Self-consciousness is magnified; as one scrutinizes himself, he believes everyone else is scrutinizing him, too. A teenager experiments with different modes of identity—through peer groups, fashion, activities and behaviors. Like trying on jeans to find that perfect fit, a teen tries on identities in search of what fits. A source from which to draw is self-knowledge.

A disability can be present at birth, result from illness or be caused by accident. Whichever way it has come in to one’s life, it contributes to identity. Therefore, it...
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