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5 Tips for Surviving Your Teen Years With a Disability

Hey! So you’re entering those wonderful teenage years where you fit in with neither children nor adults. And to make matters more… interesting, you’re disabled. As someone who has been a disabled teen for nearly three years now, I’ve had some experiences. I’m gonna be honest. You’ll have good times, you’ll have bad times. So to anyone who is disabled and entering their teens, here’s my advice:

1.  You will probably regret coming out as disabled at first, but it’ll make matters so much easier.

I’m not saying that if you have an invisible illness/disability, you shouldn’t come out and let people know. To the contrary, I actually encourage coming out as disabled. It’ll definitely make it easier to get help when you need it. But there are some downsides. Some people will never think of you in the same way again. You’ll be the “poor, useless, disabled kid” or the “inspiration.” People will spread rumors, teachers will give you looks. It’ll be worth it in the long run, but don’t think it’ll be all hunky dory.

2. Adults will often be completely useless/unhelpful with disability stuff, so don’t rely on them.

People always say to go to the adults, but if we’re being honest, which I am, sometimes going to adults will do more harm than good. Teachers/guidance counselors have very little training on and knowledge of disability policies, so sometimes you have to take some things into your own hands. Look up special education laws, go to your IEP/504 meetings, and request copies of important documents. If you’re getting bullied and it won’t go away on its own, go straight to the dean/whoever in your school is the head of dealing with these situations. Don’t completely rely on adults to help you out or you’ll be sorely disappointed.

3. When a teacher says or does something out of line, think before taking action.

I mean this in two ways. First, when a teacher makes a rude remark or does something else they shouldn’t, do not say anything back to them. Emotions will be running high; you might say something you regret and/or don’t mean. Even more importantly, you could get in trouble for nearly anything you say to these teachers while they’ll remain unpunished. It sounds unfair because it is. You’re in the school system, where every student is guilty until and even after proven innocent. Be on your best behavior. Do not give people anything to use against you.

Second, when a teacher/adult does something rude but not outright abusive or dangerous, think before reporting it. You may want to wait until the end of the year or until you are out of that situation. I once had a gym teacher who made comments on my inability to do push-ups. I told my guidance counselor (as I was foolishly unaware of tip #2 at the time), who told this teacher I tattled on him. He then retaliated by completely ignoring me the rest of the year, even as kids in my class were mocking me and making fun of me. If you’re going to report a teacher, wait until you will (hopefully) never have to see them again.

4. Take care of yourself.

I’ve learned this one the hard way. Take breaks, use a mobility aid if you need it, and take your meds if you need them. It may not look “cool,” but do you know what looks even less cool? Collapsing, needing to go to the hospital or worse just because you didn’t want to seem weird. If a doctor says to carry around a certain piece of medical equipment, it’s probably for a reason. Get enough sleep, eat enough food, and take some time to do some things you find fun for the sake of your mental health. Listen to your body and maybe it’ll hate you just a little bit less.

5. Become a part of the community.

Align yourself with other disabled people. Even if you don’t know any in real life, there’s a whole community of disabled people online. In fact, the articles I write became how I met one of my best friends to this day, who also happens to be disabled. I have a bunch of abled friends as well, but there’s nothing like talking about disability stuff with someone who really gets it. Make yourself friends who you can rant to about that horrible doctor or who can give you recommendations on which physical therapy place is the best. Once you come out as disabled, you may lose a lot of your abled friends. But the ones who stay will be the ones who are truly worth it. Keep them close, hold them tight, and never let go.

Getty image by Halfpoint.