When You're the Helping Hand

Caring for maturing children with birth defects and disabilities can be challenging and rewarding. Finding resources to help you manage is key.

Andrea Markowitz, Ph.D.

HealthKey.com contributor

April 15, 2010


The transitional years through high school and beyond are challenging for all teens. If your child has a birth defect or other disability, the challenges are even greater.

Helping Your Teen

The Minnesota Parent Training and Information Center reports the high school dropout rate of students with disabilities to be approximately 40 percent. Dropping out greatly increases the risk that they will end up unemployed, incarcerated and/or impoverished.

Make sure your child receives special education, other services and reasonable accommodation as required by law. Other services may include an individualized education plan (IEP) that outlines a course of study, and transition services (such as vocational evaluation, structured work experiences and living skills) to prepare your child for life after high school. Reasonable accommodation includes things such as having helpers who take notes or sign for hearing impaired students.

According to the National Center for Victims of Crime, teens with developmental disabilities can be targets of bullying, sexual assault and abuse. Look for signs of abuse. If your teen has been victimized, follow up with the proper authorities and counseling. Also look for signs of mental health issues and substance abuse.

Show interest in your teen's school-related activities and emotional needs while demonstrating support for their growing independence. Demonstrate confidence in their ability to succeed in high school and beyond. But try not to be overprotective. All teens need opportunities to make decisions and understand the consequences of their choices.

Helping Your Young Adult

It's natural to worry about your teen moving out into the world. Continue to show support and respect for their ability to manage daily activities and plan for the future, while letting them know you're around to help. If the disability is too severe to allow transitioning outside of your home, continue to make your child's life rich with intellectual stimulation and fun activities, and to seek assistance from agencies that provide legal, psychological and program support for young adults with disabilities.

Helping Your Entire Family

Because children with disabilities require added attention, other family members may feel left out-and stressed out-from sharing in the added responsibilities. Allow time for everyone to relax and have fun, alone and together. Use respite care agencies that offer time off for family caregivers by providing professionals who stay with your child while you take a day or a couple of weeks off.

For more information visit the Children's Defense Fund, National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities and National Collaborative on Workforce Disability