Burden of problem
Including children, over a billion people (about 15 percent of the world's population) are estimated to be living with disability. A recent community-based study in India found the prevalence of all types of disability as 6.3 percent out of which mental disability was found to be the most common type of disability. A quarter of the disabilities occur due to disease, injury and infections in childhood. Hence, prevention of disability is an important way of reducing the burden of this problem.
Teen years are fraught with challenges of growing up, getting involved in sports, recreation and creative activities, desire to succeed in the career of their choice and forge friendships that are positive. For a disabled teen, these can be more challenging but not impossible.
What are the challenges faced by a disabled adolescent?
Living with the family
Sometimes parents feel the need to make all decisions for their disabled teen and are overprotective. They are afraid that he/she may get hurt or somebody might treat him/her badly. Though these concerns are genuine, for a disabled teen, who is trying to seek his/her identity and independence, it becomes difficult to try something new and challenging. To deal with this situation, the teens can discuss the concerns with the parents and convince them of their ability to take care of themselves. They can take on responsibilities gradually.
Teens with disability may find it harder than others to make friends, but not impossible. The difficulty occurs due to lack of self-esteem and self worth. Normal teens can reach out to the disabled peers by helping them try new and fun things to do. However, offer help after checking with them if they are ready for it. Be empathetic in your approach.
Love and relationships
Physically challenged teens too get attracted to the opposite sex and wish for companionship. They do need to understand what healthy relationships are and educating themselves about sexuality is very important for them.
Schoolwork and education
Every teen with physical or mental disability has the right to be educated. If the disability poses limitations, the government has made provisions to help them by way of scholarships, exemptions, etc. to reach their educational goal.
Access to medical care
This is important for all teens with disability. Regular physical activity within the limitations of disability, healthy eating and stress management will help to stay healthy.
A sibling can be of great support to a teen with disability. But, sometimes the abled sibling can feel frustrated and jealous of the attention received by the disabled brother or sister. The able teen may also feel stressed by the demands of having a sibling with special needs and experience guilt at wanting to do fun things with his/her own peer group.
Teasing and bullying
A teen with disability may be the target of bullying. The best way to tackle this is to enhance the teen's self-esteem, giving him/her the opportunity to make independent decisions. If the harassment continues, authorities should be involved.
Career and employment
About 35 percent children in India with disabilities remain out of elementary school. Disability does not prevent a teen from becoming a productive citizen in his/her own right. Hence vocational guidance and training and the opportunity to lead life with self-respect is the right of every adolescent. The government and the community have to gear up to provide this opportunity to all the disabled youth of our country.
The Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995
a.Ensure that every child with a disability has access to free education in an appropriate environment till he or she attains the age of eighteen years
b.Endeavour to promote the integration of students with disabilities in the normal schools
c.Promote setting up of special schools in government and private sector for those in need of special education, in such a manner that children with disabilities living in any part of the country have access to such schools d.Endeavour to equip the special schools for children with disabilities with vocational training facilities.
(The author is a child and teen consultant at Tots to Teens Healthcare)