Impact of Negative Life Events on Positive Health in a Population of Adolescents with Special Needs, and Protective Factors

Article excerpt

Abstract

Aim. The aim of the present work is the analysis of factors associated to positive health and well being, in a population of adolescents with special needs (ASN) facing adverse environmental situations

Methodology. The sample included 494 adolescents with special needs (ASN), mean age 14 years old. Pupils attended 77 public schools from all over Portugal. Data collection was held within the HBSC (Health Behaviour in School aged Children) survey (Currie et al, 2004; Matos et al, 2006). For the purpose of this specific study, the questionnaire included questions about quality of life, internal and external resources and life events.

Results. Results showed that adolescents with special needs (ASN) had a set of internal resources (personal and social competences and self-concept) and a set of external resources (family, peers, school and local community). Those are protective factors regarding their well being, when they face stressful environmental situations. However when adolescents face several different negative life events, only Family and Self-concept have a significant protective effect.

Family and self-concept seem thus the most important factors for the positive development of adolescents with special needs (ASN), when they face multiple negative environmental events.

Thus, when designing and implementing school-based intervention programs, it is important to include both individual mental health support and family support, as a way to help adolescents with special needs (ASN) to face daily challenges and negative life events.

Keywords: positive health, special needs, negative life events, resilience; family, self-concept, adolescents

What is already known on this subject:

* Adolescents with special needs (ASN) face special challenges for growing up healthy and happy. Adolescents with special needs (ASN) have a set of internal and external resources that may help them face negative life events.

What this study adds:

* From a set of internal and external resources that adolescents with special needs (ASN) use, personal resources like Self-Concept, and external resources like Family support are the more efficient in lowering the negative impact of negative life events

* The impact of negative life events is not a continuum, and it looks that the critical issue is when 4 or more negative life events occur at the same time.

Adolescents with Special needs: personal and social resources

Besides regular developmental challenges, adolescents with social needs (ASN) present further difficulties that can be increased in the presence of negative live events (WHO, 2001). Anderson & Clark (1982), spoke about lack of control over one's life, lack of independence, lack of readiness to comply to adult life challenges, social isolation. The HBSC/WHO study (Matos et al, 2003) showed clearly that adolescents with special needs are more frequently victims of bullying, more often left alone at school, feel less happy, and present more physical and psychological symptoms. Simões et al. (in press), show that adolescents with special needs (ASN) more frequently feel more unhappy, more sad, more lonely, and that their school performance is lower than average, while they feel more pressured to do homework and are more frequently victims of bullying. Family is an important resource during adolescence (Sanders, 2000; Toumbourou, 2001), as well as peer group (Lutte, 1988).

A participative life in school, as well as the perception of safety in schools, the feeling of belonging to schools and the bonding effect with teachers and pupils, are relevant factors both in well being and on academic success improvement. (Bonny, Britto, Klostermann, Hornung, & Slap, 2000; Matos et al, 2003; Matos et al, 2006a,b; Simões, 2007).

Negative life events are relevant issues (Lau, 2002; Meyer, Chrousos, & Gold, 2001; Sandberg, Rutter, Pickles, McGuinness, & Angold, 2001), and one of the most relevant aspects is the number of negative life events, because they are described as having a cumulative effect (Forehand, Biggar, & Kotchick, 1998; Kaplan, 1999; Masten et al. …