Disability? What disability?

In the US, up to 8% of youth under 24 have some kind of disability. They may have been disabled from birth. Or have a newly acquired complication. Their disability may be obvious— as in the case of wheelchair users. Or invisible—which includes mental illness, autism spectrum disorder, diabetes, lupus or others. Whatever their situation, most just want to be treated the same as other kids.

Enter their world

The Spoon Theory To know what living with a disability or chronic illness is like, Christine Miserandino, a prominent blogger and Lupus sufferer, has developed The Spoon Theory. In short, it explains that normal people start each day with endless possibilities (spoons) and have enough energy to do whatever they want. But those with chronic illnesses and disabilities start each day with limited possibilities (spoons). So even mundane actions—getting out of bed, dressing, getting to work—drains their physical resources. Because their energy levels vary drastically day to day, kids with disabilities have difficulty making plans and following through with them. Keep this in mind if they frequently cancel plans with you. Read more about The Spoon Theory here: https://butyoudontlooksick.com/articles/written-by-christine/thespoon-theory/

What to Do

Accommodate Find out what—if any—special arrangements they’ll need and make sure it can happen. Empower Help them become an advocate for themselves—especially in issues surrounding school and classes. Encourage Get them to talk to teachers about keeping up with assignments and making up missed work. Also help them find tutoring services for periods of extended absences. Advise Have them document conversations (preferably via email) to make it easy to hold teachers and school administrators accountable to promises for accommodations. Research Offer to help them look for special resources in your community.

What Not to Say

The following sentiments can be irritating to those with disabilities” “But you don’t look sick…” This delegitimizes the effects of their disability “Why are you walking today when you used a wheelchair last week?” Not everyone needs assistance devices at all times. Someone with a connective tissue disorder might use a wheelchair only when their joints are out of place. “Have you tried…?” or “My cousin had this and did…” For those with chronic conditions, this can be annoying since they’ve probably tried these things already. Provide advice only you’re asked for it. “Wheelchair-bound” For many, wheelchairs are what makes getting out and enjoying life possible—without them, they would be bed-bound. The correct term is “wheelchair user.” “Can I pet your dog?” Petting a service the dog distracts them from their job, which can have dire consequences. Pet a pet only when it’s offered.

Help shape their future

Youth with disabilities encounter barriers to gaining access to higher education. They are less likely to go to college and less likely to be employed. Attending college can provide kids with disabilities better odds of getting jobs. And mentoring interventions have emerged as a way to support youths’ likelihood of overcoming these barriers. Learn more about mentoring youth with disabilities here.

From The Blog

The Chroncile of Evidence-based Mentoring

Three ways to build a “Sound Relationship House” in mentoring
Construct an inner road map  To build a strong relationship, mentors should create a “roadmap” of their mentees’ inner psychological world, including his or her “hopes, dreams, values, and goals”. This is accomplished by asking questions and remembering the answers. Share fondness and admiration Our deepest desire is to be appreciated, so show genuine appreciation–not through flattery but through praise of specific behaviors and attributes.” Dale Carnegie Gottman describes this principle as not only noticing but expressing appreciation for positive attributes. As he notes, it’s basically “a habit of mind that scans our world for things to admire, be proud of in our partner, and appreciate. This is the opposite of a critical habit that scans for our partner’s mistakes. Then the appreciation needs to be expressed verbally or nonverbally—it can’t stay hidden. This is the idea of catching someone doing something right and thanking them for it, of actively building a culture of appreciation and respect in the relationship.” Of course, mentors also need to feel valued and appreciated as well. Have a “Toward” orientation Gottman has observed that, in any interaction, there are countless ways, both verbal and nonverbal, that people let their needs be known. They’re making what he calls “bids” for emotional connection: “They are asking for attention, interest, conversation, humor, affection, warmth, assistance support and so on. These tiny moments of emotional connection form an emotional bank account that gets built over time…the fundamental law of turning toward is that it leads to more turning toward."