How Teens Cope With a Disability

Whether your child has had a lifelong disability or has a more recent diagnosis, coping with this issue during the tumultuous teen years isn't easy. While it's never simple for any child to deal with a disability, add in the hormonal changes of puberty and your teen's growing desire to act independently, and you have a mixture that might compound an already difficult condition.


According to the 2009-10 National Survey of Children with Special Health Care Needs, slightly more than 15 percent of children birth through age 17 have some sort of special health care need. Whether your teen has a physical, health-related, emotional or psychological disability, dealing with one of these issues is a challenge for any young adult. Not every coping strategy is entirely positive. Although some teens do develop beneficial coping strategies that help them to flourish, others are more negative. Understanding your child's coping strategies can help you better help him make adjustments, meet daily needs and prepare for the future.

Ignoring the Disability

Some teens with disabilities might cope with their health or psychological issues by denying them. The American Academy of Pediatrics, on its Healthy Children website, notes that it's common for adolescents to ignore their disability. In an effort to maintain a sense of normalcy, or act just like other teens, you might notice that your child takes risks or engages in behaviors that she shouldn't. Another facet of denial is intellectualizing or compartmentalizing the disability 4. Instead of accepting her true feelings about her disability, your teen might acknowledge it but still brush aside any emotions related to it.

Learning Disabilities

Not all disabilities are physically apparent. Children with learning disabilities often have just as difficult a time dealing with their issues during the teen years as kids with health care needs. As academic expectations increase and thoughts of college begin, teens with learning disabilities will need to develop positive coping strategies to keep on track and reduce stresses. The child development pros at the National Center for Learning Disabilities suggest that teens turn their emotional state around and focus on positive feelings to cope with their learning disabilities. You can help your teen to develop this coping mechanism by taking note of positive events, teaching him to be thankful for what's going well, setting attainable goals and focusing on his strengths.

Social Structure

Teens can be intensely social creatures. While parents might prevail during the younger years, as a child ages it's likely her friends will take precedence over you. Friends can help your teen cope with her disability, making her feel less alone 4. Although a solid social circle provides a positive coping mechanism for your teen, some adolescents with emotional or psychological disabilities might find it hard to make and keep friends. You can help your child to find friends by encouraging her to join school activities or clubs that interest her or sign her up for an after-school class.