Psychosocial and poor self-esteem can result for those
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.
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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 should be thoroughly understood, to the extent that is possible for the adolescent. It seems that understanding the condition of your own body would come quite easily by living with it day in and day out. This is not always the case for young people, however.
Anderson, Clarke and Spain conducted a study to “ascertain the nature and extent of psychological and social problems in adolescents with congenital cerebral palsy or spina bifida and hydrocephalus” (1982, p. vii). The study extended over three years in order to observe the process of transitioning out of high school.
One hundred and nineteen subjects included those with the previously mentioned disabilities, varying in severity, both boys and girls between 15 and 19 years old. In interviewing these teenagers the researchers discovered an unsettling number of them were very poorly educated on the source of their disability. Sixty percent of the cerebral-palsied group did not even know the name of their condition; 40% of those with spina bifida produced very little accurate information (p. 2). It is notable that no relationship was found between level of knowledge and degree of disability; nor was there a relationship between those who went to “special” schools and those who went to mainstreamed public schools (p. 42). Some descriptions about their disabilities were, “I don’t even know myself why I’m in this school.
. . I may have a slight limp but that may be because of my shoes rubbing”; “I think I’ve got a bone broken inside”; “My walking and talking are not right”; “I know it’s only temporary.
. . the right side is not developed properly” (p. 43).
The researchers also inquired about whom the teens had gotten information from and if they would like to know more. While over half had gotten information from their parents, 40-50 % said they had never spoken with a doctor or nurse about their condition (p. 59). Most of the teenagers expressed wanting to know more. One girl with spina bifida said, “It is me, and although I haven’t been told, I shouldn’t have to ask . .
. they should tell you what’s happened and what is going to happen” (p. 47). Anderson, Clarke and Spain conclude that not enough is being done by the medical professionals and school personnel in these young persons’ lives (p. 7).
Another problem may be that parents are trying to shield their children from upsetting truths. By the time children have reached their teens, it is only beneficial for them to know the nature and extent of their disability. Armed with understanding they can now decide how they are going to look at their disability. Kriegsman, Zaslow, and D’Zmura-Rechsteiner wrote a book entitled Taking Charge: Teenagers Talk about Life & Disabilities (1992).
They suggest one focus on what can be controlled to minimize the effects of disability