Help teens gain medical self-reliance
For some teens, assuming responsibility for their medical decisions is a welcome mark of maturity. For those with special health care needs, the transition to health care self-reliance may require extra preparation for both teens and their parents.
Timing and teamwork
Bhavana Viswanathan, children and youth program director at the Delaware Division of Public Health/ DHSS in Dover, recommends that parents begin taking steps to begin the transition as early as age 14. “If you wait until they’re 16 to 18, it’s often too late to tap into certain services,” she explains.
Teens and their school, parents and medical providers should work together to develop a total transition plan, including health care, says Viswanathan. “If there are specialists involved (such as speech, occupational or physical therapists) try to hold a team meeting, because once the child turns 18, things will shift,” she advises.
How much responsibility?
Parents will need to realistically assess what their child can accomplish without supervision, based on abilities and willingness to master new skills. Families may need to take into account issues such as transportation to appointments.
“Increased independence in every area of their lives is our goal for every student in our programs,” says Misty Simmons, a senior social worker for Bancroft in Camden County, NJ. “If young adults are able to communicate their feelings and health concerns, they will be much safer and better off. It also gives parents greater peace of mind to know that their child can do certain (health-related) things on their own.”
Developing and practicing a healthy lifestyle by eating well, exercising regularly and getting enough sleep is crucial. “This is a big priority for those of us in public health,” Viswanathan observes.
Not all medical professionals treat the disabled. “The best way to find a good doctor is to talk to other parents and the staff of the organizations your family works with,” says Viswanathan.
Some young adults with disabilities can manage a high percentage of their medical needs. But once a child reaches age 18, federal privacy regulations require a signed medical release for medical professionals to legally share information with parents unless they have guardianship.
Sue Henninger is a freelance writer.