Adolescent & Transition Years (9-17)

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Children and youth with disabilities experience the same physical, social and emotional changes as youth without disabilities, however these behaviors and changes may be delayed.  Adolescence is a period in life when a young person develops from a child to an adult. Adolescence occurs following the onset of puberty, which typically occurs between the ages of 9 to 14 for girls and 12 to 16 for boys.  During the teen years, developmental changes are occurring both physically and emotionally. They are developing their sexuality. Sexual development is more than puberty — the physical changes that occur on the outside and inside of the body. It also includes socio-cultural interactions with family and peers, gender-role socialization, and ongoing identity development.  Teens are beginning to test their level of independence. Peer groups become more important and influential. Your teen may communicate less with you or increasingly give their opinion during conversations. These changes in communication make parenting teens challenging.

With these developmental changes, parents of teens with disabilities will need to consider how much independence their child can have.  In the sections below are suggestions to help parents and caregivers guide their child to become as independent as possible. The tips are divided into sections for Community Inclusion, Social & Family life, Education & Lifelong Learning, and Taking Care of Yourself.  The section on community inclusion includes topics about preparing your teen for independent living, transportation, and employment. The Social & Family Life section discusses safety considerations, mental health, financial concerns, and the continuous development of social skills.  During the teen years, there are a number of changes in education. Transition, college education, and lifelong learning are all discussed in the education section. Last, we wanted to provide you as a parent some tips to help take care of yourself as you raise a teenager. At the end of each section are questions to ask yourself as you prepare your teen to become an adult.



The brain is still growing and changing during the teen years. Due to the increasing demands at school, attention or learning problems may show up. Mental disorders such as depression can also appear. Learn more about the warning signs for attention, learning, and emotional disabilities.

During adolescence complex thinking skills are progressively developing. Teens begin to think hypothetically by asking and answering “what if” questions, analyzing philosophical concerns and begin to form their own code of ethics. There is a stronger sense between right and wrong. You may observe your teen beginning to set long term goals for themselves. They will talk about the future and plan on how they want to achieve these goals. (Huebner, A. Teen Cognitive Development in Nelson. P.T. (Ed) (2012)).

Teens are beginning to be aware of what to say in specific situations, they are starting to focus on body language and use their tone of voice to emphasize their points. You may begin to hear your teen expressing their opinion more frequently. They are beginning to use humor and sarcasm in their conversations. They are beginning to speak in more complex sentences. Around 16, teens begin to develop the skills to weave a story. Teens at this age are improving critical thinking skills. They will be able to explain, describe, summarize and argue their point of view.

Mental Health:

Teens will begin to show both self-confidence and self-doubt. One minute wanting to spend time with their parents and family then breaking away the next. Teens may be very dramatic with their reactions; expressing that they are the only ones to have experienced anything like they are experiencing. As a parent you may hear statements such as, “You never understand!” and “You’ve ruined my life!”

Teens are beginning the struggle to figure out who they are and how they fit in. They will be choosing friends and exploring different social roles or characters and determining which fits them as a person. This vacillating between independence and dependence may occur for teens with significant disabilities at a later age.

At this time in their lives, youths give more attention to special or justice-oriented causes. After the shootings at Parkland High School, many teens became involved in the gun control and school safety agendas by attending rallies and writing or meeting with political leaders.

Teens have a tendency to think that they are invincible, in other words they may have an “I can do anything!” or “That can’t happen to me” attitude. They may challenge rules at home, school or in the community. Many teens may test limits and try risky behaviors. There may be more exposure and experiencing with smoking, drugs or alcohol.

Due to drastic changes in their physical appearance, teens are more self-conscious about looks. Media and peer pressure can begin to be a problem. Teens may not like their looks and decide to diet excessively. Eating disorders can become an issue during teen years. Bullying also becomes prevalent. An increase interest in dating, romance, sexual interest and activity begin.


At this age teens will show both self-confidence and self-doubt. One minute wanting to spend time with their parents and family then breaking away the next. Teens may be very dramatic with their reactions, expressing that they are the only ones to have experienced anything like they are experiencing. As a parent you may hear statements such as, “You never understand!” and “You’ve ruined my life!” Teens are beginning the struggle to figure out who they are and how they fit in. They will be choosing friends and exploring different social roles or characters and determining which fits them as a person. This waning between independence and dependence may occur for teens with significant disabilities at a later age.

Attention may be given to special causes or justice oriented. After the shootings at Parkland High School, many teens have become involved in the gun control and school safety agendas by attending rallies and writing or meeting with political leaders.

Teens have a tendency to think that they are invincible, in other words they may have an “I can do anything!” or “That can’t happen to me” attitude. Many teens may test limits and try risky behaviors. There may be more exposure and experiencing with smoking, drugs or alcohol. They may challenge rules at home, school or in the community.

Due to drastic changes in physical development teens are more self-conscious about looks. Media and peer pressure can begin to be a problem. Teens may not like their looks and decide to diet excessively. Eating disorders can become an issue during teen years. Bullying also becomes prevalent. An increase interest in dating, romance, sexual interest and activity begin.

Physical Development:

Puberty typically begins at age 8.5 to 13 for females and 9 to 14 in males. (Murphy and Elias, Pediatrics Volume 118, Number 1, July 2006) With puberty comes changes in hormones and sexual development. Height, weight, body fat will increase and body hair will begin to grow. Most girls start their period, breasts develop and girls’ body shape become curvier. In males, the testicles and penis will develop, the voice box and vocal cords start to enlarge which changes the voice to be deeper.


Community Inclusion

Preparing For Independent Living:

Allow teens to be included in family decisions and activities. Start preparing for independent living by having teens be responsible for some of the household chores, allow teens to assist in meal planning and cooking, and allow for opportunities to work and earn extra cash. “Families should consider adding age appropriate chores and teach skills to live as independently as possible to students as they move through this age range to ensure they can live independently as adults in whatever future home they choose.” Laura Shultze Transition Program planner for School District of Palm Beach County.


As your child grows into an adult they need to become more of aware of their surroundings and how to get around. This may be only to and from school, church, or the local grocery store. Have teens sit in the front seat with the driver and discuss street names, directions, and driver safety. Have them give you directions home as you are driving. Follow their directions to see where it leads you, even if they are wrong. This experiential learning allows the teen to learn from their mistakes in a safe environment with you. You may choose to ride Palm Tran to a routine location with them rather than driving. This will allow those who will not be driving to adjust to riding the city bus. Palm Tran provides travel training to help people with disabilities learn how to navigate the fixed route system. Palm Tran also provides door to door service for those with significant disabilities. To learn more about Palm Tran Click Here.


If you decide your teen is ready is to learn to drive, be sure to go over safety rules with them each time you are in the car together. This may be through role-modeling what to do, discussing safety rules and specific situation while driving. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that 6 teens, between ages 16 and 19, die each day from motor vehicle injuries. If your teen is going to drive, the CDC and car insurance companies recommend writing a driving contract which will limit the number of people in the car and have a curfew. CDC provides information on what parents can do to help make sure your young driver is aware of the leading causes of teen crashes. To learn more about how to prepare teens to think about, cause and effect of behaviors, personal safety, how to deal with anger visit the mental health section. Click Here


Students with disabilities need to explore career goals and how to obtain them. Guide your teen to evaluate their academic strengths, hobbies, and interests as they consider what they want to do for work as an adult. Some careers may need extensive time in school. When exploring careers with your teen, look at the pros and cons and options available in the career field. Remember, this about what they want for their life’s career, not what you as a parent want or think they should do.

Teens can also gain additional career exploration and training through the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) Transition Youth program called STAR, or Student Transition Activity Record. This program is part of the “Under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), Pre-Employment Transition Services must be offered to students with disabilities without requiring them to apply for, or be determined eligible for, these services. WIOA established VR as the primary agency for preparing youth with disabilities for employment while the youth are still in high school, including being able to access services while pursuing postsecondary education (trade, college, or university). VR will deliver specific Pre-Employment Transition Services including: Career Exploration Counseling, Work Readiness Training, Self-Advocacy Training, Postsecondary Educational Counseling, Community-Based Work Experiences. The students are not traditional VR customers, but have been referred to VR by school districts for limited (pre-employment transition) services.” Click Here to learn about how to apply for VR’s youth programs.

Some teens may want to have a job. In Florida, education is a priority so there are restrictions to how many hours teens may work.

During the school year, work restrictions include a maximum of 15 hours per week for ages 14 – 16 and 30 for 16 – 17. Work is prohibited 7 p.m. before school day to 7 a.m. on school day (9 p.m. during holidays and summer vacations to 7 a.m.) for teens under 16 and 1 p.m. to 6:30 a.m., before school day. for teens 16 and 17. To learn more about Florida’s Child Labor Laws under the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) check out their website or Click Here.

Questions to ask yourself about preparing for independent living:
● Have I talked to my teen about what they envision their adult life to like?
● What am I doing at home to prepare my child for their desired adult life?
● Am I teaching everyday living skills, such as preparing meals, laundry, and housekeeping?
● Am I giving my teen specific responsibilities at home?
● Have I talked to my teen about where they might want to live in the future?
● Have I begun to explore living options, at college or other independent or supported living options?
● Am I providing opportunities for my teen to learn and practice skills needed to live in other settings?
● Is my teen learning how to get around in their community (driving, using public transportation or private ride services, like Uber or taxis?
● Have I explored and begun to identify what type of supports my teen will need when they move away from home (at college or other living options)?
● Am I helping my teen explore careers that they may be interested in pursuing?
● Am I helping my teen learn how to apply and interview for jobs?


Social life for the next generation includes more than just going to the high school dance talking all night on the phone or having friends over.  It now includes social media such as Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, online dating, online gaming, texting, and more is being developed each day. But teens need more than social media interaction with their peers.  They need to begin to develop personal social activities that they can participate in throughout their life. During school age and teen years it is important to start expanding your child’s circle to include the community activities that can be done as a family, with peers or individually. Participating in community activities teaches independence, builds self-confidence, self-determination and knowledge about activities they can do in the community as they mature.  For some teens, this increased independent social time may mean dropping them off with their friends at the fair or movies and picking them up at a specific time. For others, it may mean going to a special event that has staff supervision or going to a friend’s house when the parent is home. This is a judgement call for the parent in how much they feel their child with a disability can do independently and with safety.


Safety is one of the biggest worries a parent has for their child. Safety is not only about protecting your personal well-being but also about protecting your personal information.  Media Safety: Since social media is a major part of a teenager’s life, it is important to talk to your teen about internet and social media responsibilities and safety.

Be aware of what your teen watches and reads. Because of exploitation of people with disabilities, it is important to teach personal safety, personal boundaries, when to say no, and knowing consequences of actions in all situations, including when on the internet.

It is astonishing how many scams are happening through social media.  There are over 30 topics on different types of scams on the FTC website. Learn about recent scams and how to recognize the warning signs. Click Here to read the FTC’s most recent alerts or browse scams by topic, requests for email updates on scams are available on this webpage.  Help your teen to understand the difference between truths and scams.  

Limit screen time. Media time includes television, gaming consoles, computer use, internet use, and telephone use.  When used thoughtfully these media technologies can enhance our lives, but when overused or used inappropriately it can be detrimental to learning skills needed to interact face to face with others; excessive media use can decrease participation in fitness activities, and can interrupt sleep.   The American Academy of Pediatricians’ recommends families to develop healthy media use. One suggestion is develop a “media use plan” either in the form of a contract or by calculating media time use based on other responsibilities. Click Here to see the online media planner.

Safety Away from Home:

Teens have a tendency to think that they are invincible, in other words they may have an “I can do anything!” or “That can’t happen to me” attitude. They may challenge rules at home, school or in the community.  Many teens may test limits and try risky behaviors. There may be more exposure and possibly experimenting with smoking, drugs or alcohol. Click Here to see the tips on drug abuse in the mental health section.

All children, no matter what disability, will go through puberty. Yet, it may be difficult to think of your child with a disability as sexual being.  During the adolescent stage of life, teens are going to explore romance and dating. “The subject of sexuality can be daunting.  Add to the mix a physical or cognitive disability and you may find yourself feeling totally unprepared to deal with the subject matter.” (DiAnn L Baxley and Anna L Zendell, Sexuality Across the Lifespan, Revised 2011). Regardless of the level of cognitive functioning, all children need to learn about sex and sexuality.  It can save a child from embarrassment and exploitation.

The rate of sexual abuse is extremely high for people with developmental disabilities.  In 2006 the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect reported that children with disabilities were sexually abused 2.2 times higher than children without disabilities.  The rates are even higher for adults with developmental disabilities, up to 83% of females and 32% of males are sexually abused. Sadly only 3% of their attackers are convicted.

So, what can parents do?  Educate your child about sex and teach them the correct language for their body parts.  Be sure your child understands personal boundaries and when to say no. The Florida Developmental Disabilities Council’s (FDDC) book Sexuality across the Lifespan for Children and Adolescents with Developmental Disabilities provides specific topics to address at different ages. It also provides a resources for parents/caregivers and for educators. Sexuality across the Lifespan for Children and Adolescents with Developmental Disabilities – An instructional guide for Parents/Caregivers of individuals with developmental disabilities. To download the 2011 English version Click Here To download the Spanish version Click Here To order the English version online click here.

More To Read:

Sexuality and Developmental Disability: A Guide for Parents. Pub Date: 2009 W. Click Here

Talking with your Teen about Sexuality. Pub Date: 2015 W. Click Here

Helping your with Child Autism through Puberty. Click Here

Tips Autism Puberty Adolescence. Click Here

Be a good role model:

Your teenager is developing their own set of values.  Teens are watching what adults are doing and how they treat people, solve problems, and how the adult handles their own emotions. 

Communicating with your teen:

It is important to remember to listen.  Look for easy times to talk when doing things together.  I remember my mom and I would have most of our talks while cleaning up the kitchen after dinner. For my teen step-daughter, our talks would be during evening dog walks along the beach. Many times the walks were quiet but she knew I was there to listen. Conversations with teens can be difficult, especially when asking general questions like, how was your day. Instead try talking about your life and work or ask open ended questions like, “what made today a good day for you”, “what was the funniest thing that happened today,” or “what challenged you.” Talk to teens about the dangers of drugs, drinking, smoking, and sexual activity.

Be ready to listen when your teen wants to talk.  Stop what you are doing and give full attention. Try using clarifying questions and ask questions about how they want you as a parent to help and summarizing what your teen is saying to you. For instance, “Is this what you mean when you say, ….” or “I hear you saying, …., is that correct?”  “What would you like me to do to help you?” Allow your teen to begin problem solving and coming up with a solution rather than solving the problem for them. Talk through the problem solving process with them.

Plan family time:

Family time is important in creating emotional bonds.  It helps in building self esteem and memories. It is easier for kids to share what’s on their mind while doing something that they enjoy, rather than answering the mundane question, “What did you do today?” Family time may be sitting down together for dinner, cooking, or doing outdoor activities together.  Learning to work and play together as a family unit helps to build the skills needed as an adult. Plan activities when the television, computer, and smartphones are turned off.

When your child is part of a Bullying situation:

Discuss rules and consequences and how to react to bullying.  “Bullying occurs among teens when one or more of them uses physical, emotional, or verbal abuse to make life miserable for another.” Kathy Olson and Jodi Dworkin, University of Minnesota Family Social Science. Those involved in bullying take on different roles, such as the person who is bullying, the person who is being bullied and then there are those who are observers of the bullying situation.  When talking about bullying it is important to discuss all of these roles and in a manner which focuses on the situation rather than the individuals. Some of the signs that may point to a bullying problem are:

  • Unexplainable injuries
  • Lost or destroyed clothing, books, electronics, or jewelry
  • Frequent headaches or stomach aches, feeling sick or faking illness
  • Changes in eating habits, like suddenly skipping meals or binge eating. Kids may come home from school hungry because they did not eat lunch.
  • Difficulty sleeping or frequent nightmares
  • Declining grades, loss of interest in schoolwork, or not wanting to go to school
  • Sudden loss of friends or avoidance of social situations
  • Feelings of helplessness or decreased self esteem
  • Self-destructive behaviors such as running away from home, harming themselves, or talking about suicide provides a complete overview of bullying and resources to help if you are concerned about bullying of your child. Click here for a bullying tip sheet.

Bullying Resource CenterAmerican Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry — provides both answers to frequently asked questions about bullying and access concise up-to-date information on other issues that affect children, teenagers, and their families. Remember, teens are watching and modeling their future behavior from their role models. For their website: Click Here


At the age of 18, your teenager is considered a legal adult.  HIPPA and FERPA laws will protect the privacy of your child.  This means, even you, the parent, need to have permission to access health and education records.  Turning 18 also means the teen is legally responsible for their behaviors. Your 18 year old now has rights; but also has legal responsibilities and will be held accountable for behaviors which break the law.  Florida Bar Association provides information for new adults to learn about their rights and responsibilities and for families to learn more about the guardianship process. This information is provided in the Legal section of the Learn More menu. Click Here

For a young person with significant disabilities it is important to decide if guardianship is needed. Gaining guardianship is a legal process that is determined by a judge.  It is the legal process of taking away a person’s legal rights and stating that the person can not take care of some essential health and safety requirements and cannot manage their personal property, such as finances or real estate.


There are three important aspects about finances for teens, earning and spending their own money, understanding government benefits, and saving for future expenses such as college or living expenses after the parent passes away.

Learning Money Skills:

It’s fun to earn money on your own as teen and to spend it! But, there is also the need to budget and save. The continuation of teaching budgeting and saving skills is an important skills all teens should be learning. One way to teach about savings and budgeting is the jar or envelope budget system.  Have your child earn money by volunteering for extra responsibilities around the house. These are chores that child is not responsible for doing. The child may be responsible for keeping their room orderly and helping with kitchen duties. The extra responsibilities could be thoroughly cleaning the bathrooms, or vacuuming and dusting the house. The allowance for these duties should be reasonable for the amount of time and skill the work takes.  When you pay your child for these duties, have four jars or envelopes labeled with give, quick cash, short term saving, and long term savings. With the child, have the child allocate and put money in each jar. These labels can change as the child matures. The labels may be Necessities, Education, Charity, Savings for major purchases and Long term Savings (aka Retirement) and Play. The Play and Quick Cash allocations should be the last to add money to. As one accountant friend told his wife when she had three paychecks in one month and thought that the third check was extra spending money, “there is no such thing as extra money.”  When setting a budget all money should be allocated to cover specific expenses and savings. Many financial professionals, like Dave Ramsey and Neale Godfrey, recommend the envelope/jar method of budgeting to all ages to help reach financial freedom.

Teenagers should already have the basic skills of knowing money amounts and have had some guided experience with purchasing items. Teens with significant cognitive disabilities, may be continuing to learn about the different values of coins and bills.  Not only should all teens be learning about real money but also about “plastic money” or debit cards. Allowing your teen to have a separate bank account, will help to teach the basic skills in a safe setting. Many banks have created specific bank accounts for teens and parents in order for them to learn these important banking skills.  Some parents worry that this may be too much and the teen may overspend. This worry can be alleviated when daily family time includes reviewing of spending online and teaching budgeting skills. Don’t be surprised when banks start sending credit card applications to your teen when they near the age of majority, 18. Teens need to learn about credit and how to use it wisely as well as budgeting and savings.  FDIC has developed the Money Smart online curriculum which can be used by anyone anywhere. This program is recommended by NDI and Project TEN as a means to teach these money skills both at home and in the classroom. For their website: Click Here

Government Benefits:

Your child may be eligible for Social Security Benefits or services through Agency for Persons with Disabilities (APD).  The funds through these government agencies are provided to help with the costs of medical bills, therapies, and living expenses for the person with the disability so that they may remain in the community and avoid placement in an institution. There are even ways to save some of the Social Security benefits allocated to your child for future expenses.  Schedule an appointment with a Community Work Incentives Coordinator to learn more about how to save and how to work while on SSDI. The Community Work Incentive Coordinators all have special training by Social Security to help people with disabilities apply for these incentives.

Saving for College:

Saving for college should start early when the child is young so that the savings can grow by what you allocate and the interest earned. Your retirement savings is not a college fund for your child! There are many ways to save money for college.  There are 529 savings accounts, Florida prepaid, and Uniform Gift To Minors Act (UGMA) or Uniform Transfer To Minors Act (UTMA). Talking to the professionals at your bank or financial advisors can help you in making the right choice. If your child has a developmental disability, don’t think that they cannot go to college.  Many colleges are starting inclusive programs for people with intellectual disabilities to provide lifelong learning. These are explained in the Education section. Click Here

There is also student financial aid through the government. The Free Application Federal Student Aid application, called FAFSA, must be completed.  FAFSA can provide Pell Grants, work study and loans to both undergraduate degree-seeking and approved Comprehensive Transition Programs (CTP) for students with intellectual disabilities.  The Pell Grant and work study funds are based on need of the student.

To learn more about how to apply for FAFSA go Click Here or schedule an appointment with your teen’s high school guidance counselor.

There are also many scholarship opportunities for college. Some are national, some are through the specific college and some are through agencies and philanthropists.  Scholarships can be given for specific interest areas – such as engineering, specific skill or talents – like sports or academic, for special groups like specific disabilities, minorities, first generation college students, or low socioeconomic level.  The Johnson Foundation offers scholarships to students with intellectual disabilities who want to attend either FAU or FSU’s Comprehensive Transition Programs. Scholarship opportunities can typically be found in the school guidance office and at the college’s financial aid office: Click Here for Palm Beach State or Click Here for: FAU. The School District of Palm Beach also offers a service to help match scholarships on their website. Click Here. Another site to check for scholarships is For their website Click Here. Be careful when applying for scholarships, there are many unscrupulous companies that will promise scholarships for a fee.  The FTC cautions students to look and listen for these tell-tale lines:

  • “The scholarship is guaranteed or your money back.”
  • “You can’t get this information anywhere else.”
  • “I just need your credit card or bank account number to hold this scholarship.”
  • “We’ll do all the work. You just pay a processing fee.”
  • “The scholarship will cost some money.”
  • “You’ve been selected” by a “national foundation” to receive a scholarship – or “You’re a finalist” in a contest you never entered.

If you attend a seminar on financial aid or scholarships, follow these steps:

  • Take your time. Don’t be rushed into paying at the seminar. Avoid high-pressure sales pitches that require you to buy now or risk losing out on the opportunity. Solid opportunities are not sold through nerve-racking tactics.
  • Investigate the organization you’re considering paying for help. Talk to a guidance counselor or financial aid advisor before spending your money. You may be able to get the same help for free.
  • Be wary of “success stories” or testimonials of extraordinary success – the seminar operation may have paid others to give glowing stories. Instead, ask for a list of at least three local families who have used the services in the last year. Ask each if they’re satisfied with the products and services received.
  • Be cautious about purchasing from seminar representatives who are reluctant to answer questions or who give evasive answers to your questions. Legitimate business people are more than willing to give you information about their service.
  • Ask how much money is charged for the service, the services that will be performed and the company’s refund policy. Get this information in writing. Keep in mind that you may never recoup the money you give to an unscrupulous operator, despite stated refund policies.” For more on aid scams Click Here.

Questions to ask yourself about Social and Family Life:

  • Am I helping my teen learn personal safety and security issues?
  • Does my teen know how to call for help at home and in the community?
  • Is my teen learning how to interact appropriately with law enforcement and other public safety officers?
  • Am I exploring options about the safety of personal rights – guardianship, power of attorney?
  • Does my child understand the concept of money management or need someone to manage their finances when they become an adult?
  • Am I investigating living options for my child when I pass away?
  • Does my child know how to stay safe when out with friends or in the community?
  • Does my child know what to do if bullied or victimized?
  • Would a limited or joint bank account help my child learn about money?
  • Am I considering my child’s safety and protection without making them overly dependent on adult supervision or taking away my teen’s rights to be self-determined?


Fitness and Nutrition:

Encourage your teen to be active for at least an hour each day. Find recreational or physical activities that your teen likes. But, before starting a sport or any physical activity, always check with your child’s physician to see what restrictions are needed for your teen and their specific disability. When children are physically active they are improving their strength and developing motor skills and coordination. Some of the activities should be
vigorous which means they should cause the person to breathe hard and sweat. These types of activities will increase endurance and help to build healthy bones and muscles. Explore different activities and hobbies so that they can identify their own special talent. Participating in physical activities helps to improve emotional health too. Exercise can help reduce feelings of depression and anxiety. Exercising can be part of the daily routine like walking or biking to and from school, or walking a pet. The total time of exercise doesn’t have to happen in one setting; it can be broken down into increments during the day. For instance, a teen may have 30 minutes of rigorous activity during PE class and another thirty minutes playing basketball with a family member in the evening.

Because teens may become self-conscious about their weight they may try dieting. Eating disorders will often begin during the teen years. Obsessions with food, body weight, and shape may also signal an eating disorder. The exact cause of eating disorders is still unknown. Research is showing that eating disorders may also be caused by genetic factors, environment, peer pressure, or emotional health. Common eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder. Each of these disorders have different characteristics but all have food and weight issues in common. To learn more about eating disorders Click Here.

Emotional / Mental Health:

Mental Health Development: When we think about mental health often mental illness comes to mind. But in fact mental health is about keeping our mind healthy. Mental health includes being able to maintain fulfilling relationships with others, coping with stress, and the ability to complete activities of daily living. It doesn’t mean that a person is always happy. It means a person is able to experience all levels of emotions such as happy, joyful, silly, sad, angry, or disappointed and that the person has the ability to accept these emotions as part of life, but not letting the emotion overpower one’s life. Mental illness on the other hand, are conditions that affect a person’s mood, thinking, and behavior that can interfere with a person’s ability to relate to others and function every day. Everyone has the potential of developing a mental illness at some point in life. It is estimated that 1 in 5 Americans experience mental health problems each year and 1 in 17 having a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. Mental disorders are one of the leading causes of disability in the United States (C. Nordqvist, Medical News Today 2017). When a person has a mental illness it affects more than just them. It affects everyone in that person’s life. It affects their family, friends and their community. According to NAMI “half of mental health conditions begin by age 14 and 75% of mental health conditions develop by age 24.”

A teen’s emotions may vary moment by moment and may mask some of the symptoms of mental illness. Being sad for more than two weeks is not normal. Other symptoms of mental illness can include thinking difficulties or problems focusing attention, extreme emotional highs and lows, sleep problems, difficulty with social relationships, withdrawing and not participating in activities It is important to know that early intervention and support are crucial to improving mental health. To learn more about specific mental health disabilities, such as psychosis, schizophrenia, eating or anxiety disorders Click Here; there is an overview of each disability, with treatment and supports listed. In the mental health section learn more about the emotional or mental health concerns and resources. Should you see signs of depression or suicide in your teenager, get professional help! autism and schizophrenia, physical aggression, knowing when to Baker Act, DJJ, Racial disparity, exposure to violence, secondary trauma, addictions)

Sometimes a mental health disability can worsen to the point that the caregiver may fear that the person is going to hurt themselves or others. This may happen at home, school or somewhere else in the community. When this happens there are actions the caregiver can take to help the person. In Florida, the mental health law of 1971, called the Baker Act, provides a way to get the person help when the behavior from their illness keeps them from accepting mental health help.

“The Baker Act encourages the voluntary admission of persons for psychiatric care, but only when they are able to understand the decision and its consequences and are able to fully exercise their rights for themselves. When this is not possible due to the severity of the person’s condition, the law requires that the person be extended the due process rights assured under the involuntary provisions of the Baker Act.” The Baker Act has be initiated by a physician, clinical psychologist, psychiatric nurse or clinical social worker, a circuit judge, or a law
enforcement officer. When one of these professionals are called to help, they must directly see specific behaviors that demonstrate that the person is a harm to themselves or others. If you are unable to get the person to the physician or mental health professional, then law enforcement should be called. These professionals will provide you with what the Baker Act can and cannot do and other details regarding the person’s rights. Be aware having a person Baker Acted is only a temporary solution to identify supports or intervention needed. The follow up to implementing the intervention is crucial to successful recovery.

Health Care:

Your teenager isn’t a child anymore and it is time to start thinking about transitioning from pediatric health care services. Floridahats is a website developed by the Florida Dept of Health and Children’s Medical Services.  The mission is help youth with disabilities and their families with the transition from pediatric to adult medical services. For the website Click Here.

Questions to ask yourself about Healthy Living:

● Does my teen get enough exercise?
● Am I providing nutritional meals for my growing teenager?
● Am I aware of my teen’s fears and feelings about life?
● Do I see signs of drug, tobacco, or alcohol use in my teen?
● Does my teen know how to ask questions when visiting the doctor?
● Does my teen know the signs of an illness and how to care of it?
● Does my teen know when it is necessary and not necessary to call the doctor or emergency health care?
● Does my teen know how to schedule doctor appointments?


The brain is still growing and changing during the teen years. Due to the increasing demands at school, attention or learning problems may show up. Mental disorders such as depression can also appear. To learn more about the warning signs for attention, learning, and emotional disabilities, Click Here for the National Institute of Mental Health website.

If you suspect your child is not doing well in school due to attention, learning or mental health issues, speak to his or her counselor or the ESE coordinator at the school to begin the evaluation process. A team from the school will meet with you to discuss interventions which may help your teen be more successful at school. After
implementation of these interventions, if a problem continues, an evaluation may be considered. To learn more about referring an older child for an evaluation, go to School Assessment.

Transition Planning:

Beginning at age 14, transition planning will be included in the IEP. Transition planning includes having the teen with the disability participating in the decision making process of the IEP.

No matter the cognitive level of functioning, teens should be a part of the IEP meeting, even if it is only to participate for a small amount of time. For example, teens may participate by making introductions or only discussing their career ambitions with the adults.

Other means of participation can be used such as video recording the teen either at home or at school discussing their career and academic goals. Remember, high school students are beginning to develop their personal identity. The IEP team is making decisions that will affect their future. They need to participate in this decision making, no matter how and to what degree.

The IEP Team will be discussing academic goals, as well as career goal ambitions. It is important for your child to have ideas of different careers other than what is seen in the media (sports, music and acting stars). Teens will need to discuss their ambitions and share how they plan to pursue them. Do they want to attend college or just go straight to work? Post- secondary options for students with disabilities include work training programs If your teen has a significant cognitive disability and is working on Access coursework, don’t brush off the idea of your child going to college, there are now many post-secondary options for people with cognitive disabilities.

The University of South Florida, in collaboration with the Florida Developmental Disabilities Council, developed a website, to provide information to students with disabilities and their families related to employment and transition. FYI Transition provides information and web-based learning on transition planning, career and post-secondary education planning, job development and support, career exploration, funding, work incentives, and more. For their website Click Here.


Stay involved in your child’s school. Get to know the teachers and continue to support their work with your teen. Participate in IEP meetings and course selection meetings. What classes your child takes now influence what they can take in high school and in postsecondary programs. In elementary school, your child may have had one or two teachers per grade. Once in middle school that may change. Students may begin to switch classes.

Some school have classes for 55 minutes while other school may have 90 or 120 minute classes. They will be dressing out for gym with other teenagers. Students in middle and high school will need to focus on being organized in order to complete the assignments for each class. Designate a time for homework and school studies each night. If there is no homework, use this time to review specific skills they have learned through the year.

Do you want to learn more about what your child learns in each grade? Florida has many internet resources for subject area goals for each grade level. provides resources to help families reach their educational goals. Here you can learn about the different grade levels, curriculum and other important information to help you support your child through school. The Florida Department of Education’s Exceptional Student Education Department has a webpage developed just for parent involvement from Pre K through grade 12. To Learn More about academic resources visit the Education section for information on specific topics like, IEPs, post-secondary opportunities for students with developmental disabilities. Click Here

Postsecondary Education:

There’s much to consider when navigating transition from high school to college. There’s determining what type of program or major, the cost, the location and class sizes and most importantly how to continue receiving the accommodations needed to be successful in the coursework. Check the ADA resource page to find out more about how to receive accommodations at college.

The website provides a wealth of information for families and educators on college options for students with intellectual disabilities. If you are looking for some ideas on IEP goals and objectives to help teen prepare to go to college, they have created a table with suggested IEP goals. Click Here for the table. Click Here for their website.

When selecting a college look at the programs and majors to see if the college offers the training needed to start the career of interest. Thinkcollege provides a list of colleges throughout the United States that offer programs for students with intellectual disabilities.

FDDC’s Florida Postsecondary Education Guide provides in-depth descriptions of postsecondary programs in Florida that serve students with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Click Here for the guide.

There are also many college scams offering an easy way to get a degree. Remember the rule, if it looks to good to be true or if it sounds way to easy, then it’s a scam. To understand more about college scams, read the Federal Trade Commissions article, College Degree Scams. Click Here. Check with your high school guidance office for more information on legitimate colleges and trade schools and the programs they offer.

Questions to ask yourself about education and lifelong learning?

● Have I talked to my teen about their desire to go to college?
● Have I taken my teen to visit colleges?
● Am I attending the transition IEP meetings and helping my teen feel comfortable in participating?
● Does my teen know how to ask for accommodations?
● Does my teen know how to express what they want to do after high school to the IEP team?
● Do the IEP goals help your teen prepare for adult life after high school?
● Am I helping my child find scholarships and apply for financial aid for college?
● Does my teen’s transition plan include work or volunteer experience and practice on how to get a job?
● Does my child’s transition plan balance work experience, social skills and academics according to my child’s needs, desires, and abilities?

Caring for Yourself

As a parent of a child with a disability, we often forget to take care of ourselves. We will advocate for our children to make sure they are getting the help they need. We will fill our schedule with activities to help our child make progress, but we tend to forget about ourselves.

This can lead to exhaustion, depression, and isolation. It’s important to take care of your health as well as your child’s. If we neglect our own well-being we may risk our own health and the ability to be there for our children.

There are three key points all parents should follow:

  1. Live a healthy lifestyle – eat nutritional meals, spend at least 30 to 45 minutes (optimal is one hour) exercising each day, get adequate sleep. Develop good communication skills, consider using “When ___ happens, I feel ____” statements.
  2. Know your limitations. No one can do this alone! Be aware of what you can and cannot do. Ask friends, family, advocates, and agencies for help. Remember it takes a village to raise a child. Check the Parent Support section or call 211 to find resources to help you with your child.
  3. Find ways to relax. It’s important to take time be yourself. This may be through meditation, actively participating in your religious beliefs, taking a long bath, or reading a novel. Find time to interact with other adults with common interests. It may be doing the things you love such as hobby, going to the gym, or going out with your spouse or close friends.

Keep these three key points in mind to help manage the stress of parenting.

Questions to ask yourself about caring for yourself:

● Am I taking care of my own health?
● Am I exercising everyday?
● Am I eating nutritional meals?
● Do I have time set aside to recoup my energy?
● Am I asking for help when I don’t know how to handle a situation?


Independent Living:

Tools and Resources for Adult Life Brochure. Click Here

Bicycle Safety. Click Here

Financial Literacy resource websites:

Hands On Banking. Click Here

Better Money Habits. Click Here

Practical Money Skills Website. Click Here

Pacer Center Publications to guide through transition. Click Here
Pacer center Parent Resource publications. Click Here provides information for parents on a multitude of child and teen issues from common issues to rare diseases. For their website Click Here also provides informational material that you and your child can review together. Sections are divided for children and teens. There’s also a page for educators to develop research-based lessons for children in grades K – 12. For their website: Click Here

WebMD health and Parenting Guide Website: Click here Planned Parenthood provides reliable information on sex, relationships, body and more in the language appropriate for teens. For their website: Click Here Planned Parenthood provides resources on topics parents may want to discuss with their child as they grow from pre-K to college. For their website: Click Here Florida Department of Education has an overview of the facilitated IEP process when the IEP meeting isn’t coming to an agreement. For their website: Click Here

Parent Resources noted on the website: Click Here Palm Beach Schools graduation requirements. For their website: Click Here. For a presentation on the graduation requirements for students with disabilities Click Here. Social Security work incentives and planning assistance Click Here.

Employment First Overview Video


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Center for Disease Control and Prevention (2017). Teen drivers: Get the facts. (2017).

Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics (2017). America’s Children: Key National Indicators of Well Being.

Florida Developmental Disabilities Council (2017). First steps a guide to your child’s development.  Tallahassee, FL:  Florida Developmental Disabilities Council, Inc. 2017.

Florida Developmental Disabilities Council (2013). Planning ahead a guide for parents, family members, and legal representatives of individuals with developmental disabilities. Tallahassee, FL:  Florida Developmental Disabilities Council, Inc.

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TASCC Alberta (2018) Frequently asked questions youth with disabilities sexuality topics. Retrieved from                                                   

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Youth Development Institute (2014). Stages of adolescent and young adult development (18 -25) NYC Justice Corps Learning Community