Parenting & Family

Supporting a Teenager with a Disability

Disabilities can make the process of daily living difficult; not just for those with a disability, but for their caretakers as well. Depending on the disability, a person may be limited in terms of physical activity, and may need assistance to just get around. According to the CDC, it’s estimated that approximately 53 million adults in the United States were diagnosed with a disability in 2013. While that number may seem high, teens are just as likely to have special healthcare needs. According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, an average of 1 in 5 children between ages 12-17 have a disability.

Adolescence is one of the most rapid stages of development and its influence on future living, behavior, and socialization is just as influential as childhood. With this in mind, one can see how disabilities during adolescence can have a major impact on development. Because of this, it’s crucial for caretakers and family members to support not just the daily needs of teens with disabilities, but also their development as well.

Types of Disabilities

The severity of a disability can be low; having little effect on daily living; or great, impacting most aspects of an individual’s life. Despite the variation in severity, disabilities are categorized by how they affect one or more of the five daily living categories. Daily activities such as learning, seeing, and walking are affected by various types of disabilities:


  • Mobility: Mobility disabilities are categorized based on their effect on walking or climbing stairs.

Independent Living:

  • Independent Living: Individuals with Independent Living disabilities have difficulty living without any assistance.


  • Cognition: Individuals with cognitive disabilities have difficulty remembering, concentrating, or making decisions.


  • Self-Care: Individuals with Self-Care disabilities have difficulty with tasks like dressing and bathing.


  • Vision: Individuals with vision disabilities may be completely blind or have difficulty seeing, even with corrective lenses.

Disabilities and Adolescence

During adolescence, it’s important for teens to acquire the appropriate skills and knowledge in order to manage relationships and emotions. During this phase of development, they also acquire abilities that are important for managing adulthood. While internal and external factors influence adolescent development, with the proper support, most teens get through this stage of life and end up learning the proper skills to manage adulthood. However, it can be easier said than done for those with disabilities. Disabilities often effect adolescent development in fundamental ways, making the most basic functions of life unmanageable without assistance.

Some disabilities affecting teens today include dyslexia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism, and Asperger’s syndrome. Learning disabilities like dyslexia make it difficult to read, write, and spell words. Individualized, evidence-based treatment is recommended for teens with learning disabilities. This ensures they can lead healthy adult lives and may improve their wellbeing. Disabilities like autism and Asperger’s syndrome require different treatment methods as they’re neurological-based disorders that affect behavior, social skills, and communication. Whatever disability a teen may have, the proper treatment and care should be based not only on the disability itself, but individual needs of the teen as well.

 Support Networks

There are multiple government-based programs and support networks for individuals with disabilities and their caretakers. Education programs, psychiatric assistance, and medical intervention (when applicable) programs can help you in efforts to provide proper support to your teen. Many of these disability service providers offer guided assistance and treatment based on the individual needs of your teen and their specific needs in relation to the disability.

Support from Home

While many programs can assist you with supporting your teen, it’s also important to take their daily needs into consideration. As teens go through adolescence, they may need assistance navigating the physical and mental changes that occur, even more so when a disability is involved. Your involvement in their life has to be consistent in order for them to navigate life and adolescence properly. They may need support in the following areas of their life:


  • Education: Support with everything school and education related is a must for proper cognitive development. You may need to oversee school assignments and help them learn the required course material. There are also in-home tutoring programs available (if applicable).

Daily Activities:

  • Daily Activities: In some cases, you may have to help with daily activities such as getting dressed, eating, bathing, and grooming. If applicable, you may also have to help them with taking medication for their disability.

Emotional Support: emotional intelligence activities

  • Emotional Support: Proper management of emotions is crucial to development. Providing your teen with emotional support during times of stress, sadness, anger, or any other basic emotion is beneficial to their wellbeing. There are emotional intelligence activities that you can do with your teen from home. Keeping your teen company can also be an effective emotional support tool.

Dating and Social Life:

  • Dating and Social Life: Development of the proper skills to navigate social life and relationships is an important part of a teen’s development. These areas are often challenging for teens and adults alike. You may need to support your teen with certain aspects like learning to make friends, maintain relationships, read social cues, and develop intimate relationships with others.

While it can be difficult for teens, parents, and caretakers to manage life with a disability, it is still possible. There are numerous support groups and assistance options available to provide educational, psychiatric, and medical support. There are also support tools you can effectively utilize from home in order to help improve the wellbeing and development of your teen.

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