How Is the Disabled Young Adult in Your Life Doing? Is He His Own Man Yet? Is She Her Own Woman?

A young girl wearing thick glasses is looking very closely into a goldfish bowl.
A young girl wearing thick glasses is looking very closely into a goldfish bowl.

I graduated from elementary school at the top of my class and traveled daily to an exam high school far away. My parents were ambitious for me, but my mother was depressed and uncomfortable with my disability. We didn’t discuss my lack of close friends or invitations. In the end, I didn’t do well enough for university and my father was angry. It was my fault! My belief that sighted people like my sister were the real people grew. My own two daughters the first without eye problems and the second who inherited my vision loss showed me exactly what had happened…

During middle and high school a non-disabled teen will usually stop using parents as confidantes and advisors on social and friendship issues. This beginning separation is very important and natural. The kid will always need comfort and advice from parents or guardians, but their peers will be increasingly important as the teen builds a separate identity. If he finds a good group of friends, it will benefit his academics as well as his social skills.

During these important years the disabled teen is almost certain to have fewer social experiences of all kinds than a non-disabled teen – fewer sleepovers, concerts, parties, and hanging out with buddies. He is much less likely to find something he excels at, much less likely to take responsibility for a class project, and much less likely to mess up in ways he can learn from.

A disabled young adult is often treated at home as if she was still a pre-teen. She may stay bonded with parents, continuing to confide in them and ask advice about her clothes as well as school and social issues. The separation from parent does not progress, and the teen may not become rude or sulky or embarrassed by her folks. She may not build her own identity.  Parents are often still taking decision and making choices for the young adult. Sometimes they decide that he should attend college even when his abilities don’t really support it.

The teen also spends more afternoons, more evenings and weekends at home, often lying on his bed without phone calls or close friendships to help him develop. The disabled teen may be very good at talking to teachers and telling his aide what he needs, but in the soft skills of peer relationships and understanding how other people are reacting, he is almost certainly way behind.

What to Do

This is really tough stuff. You have to be courageous and proactive and work hard even though you are too tired. You are going to hand him the fishing pole instead of the fish! “Raising a child with a visual impairment requires much courage and perseverance,” writes Dr. Anne McCuspie in Promoting the Acceptance of Children with Disabilities.


–         Encourage your disabled teen to make her own choices and decisions backed by accurate information and discussion with you.

–         Let him manage meetings at school related to his disability.

–         Be a tiger–parent about finding small friendly groups at church or temple, recreation that she can enjoy, clubs at school which are small and talky, weekends with other disabled teens.

–         Encourage and support anything he is good at and loves.

–         Encourage her to find volunteering, paid work, or an internship.

–         Make opportunities for him to hang out with peers, invite likely kids to your home and be generous about driving him to dates with friends.

–         Be realistic about your young adult in college – is she ready now, or would an internship or a year or two of work or volunteering serve her better?

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