When is a teen with special needs being a "teen" and when is s/he being "special"?
That is a quandary that many parents of teens with special needs find themselves in. Think about it – teens can be moody, unpredictable, in their own world, extreme in their responses – different. When you add special needs on top of all that, how is a parent to cope?
I often think that the first sign that my daughter Adina was becoming a teenager was when she refused to let me cut her bangs – starting right after her bat mitzvah. Her beautiful honey-colored, straight hair became a "curtain" that she very quickly realized was handy to hide behind. (Teen or Special needs?)
Adina fell in love with John Travolta, discovering Vinnie Barbarino from Welcome Back Kotter. She decided to change her name to Vinnie and refuses to answer to Adina – even gets insulted when you use her "real" name. (Teen or Special needs?)
This week she brought a friend home directly from school without checking with me first. (Teen?) She then got tired of said friend after an hour, wanting her to go home already. (Special needs?)
Adina's immediate response to any uncomfortable situation is to cry. All along I thought that was definitely special needs since I figured she cries because it's hard for her to verbalize her feelings. (Special needs?) Then someone told me how her typical daughters spend a lot of time crying. (Teen?).
When they enter their teenage years kids with special needs are learning independence and forging their identity just like typical teens. But unlike their typical peers they do not have the resources to cope with the challenges of adolescence. Where does that leave us parents? We try to navigate this tricky territory together with our kids and let me tell you, it ain't easy.
By Miriam Avraham, Shutaf Co-Founder