Getting through Adolescence: Develop Programs That Promote Resilience

The Exceptional Parent, September 1996 | Go to article overview

Getting through Adolescence: Develop Programs That Promote Resilience


Resiliency research provides a clear picture of those things that protect youth at risk--including youth with disabilities--against an array of bad outcomes. Understanding those factors that improve the outcomes of those at risk should help community leaders design better programs for youth with disabilities.

Resilient adolescents are not invincible super-beings. They do not display an unusual amount of happiness, life satisfaction or stress-related health problems. They are not immune to life's challenges or difficulties. When faced with ongoing emotional or physical distress, these youth remain socially competent. Sadness and unhappiness in stressful circumstances is expected; remaining productive despite these effects is a hallmark of resilience.

There have been a number of consistent findings across a wide variety of studies that have explored risk and protective factors for children and youth with disabilities and their families.

Three qualities appear in youth with disabilities who succeed. They have appealing temperaments, grow up in the presence of one or more caring adults, and are involved in a church, school or other caring organization.

These qualities--protective factors--may have a more profound impact on resilient behavior in childhood, adolescence, and adulthood than specific risk factors quoted such as poverty, poor health care, and family problems.

For some, these protective factors are found in family, relatives, and neighbors. For others, it is through more formal institutions of school, religious institutions, and counselors that support is found.

Building resilience in educational, social service, recreational, and other programs for youth with disabilities requires system-centered strategies that:

* Are not bound by traditional agency roles;

* Focus on enhancing strengths in young people as much as reducing the risk caused by the chronic condition;

* See the youth as part of the solution (not just the focus of the problem);

* Start early in the child's life;

* Are intensive, continuous, and developmentally appropriate;

* Have staff who are collaborative, interdisciplinary, and not "overly professionalized";

* Do "what it takes" to be successful; and

* Value young people.

The key elements for resiliency-based programming can be summarized in the PCAP--"People, Contributions, Activities & Place" model below:

Resilient programs include:

People, especially an adult who cares, who is connected along with a network of adults who are involved in the life of the adolescent.

Contributions, especially the opportunity for the youth to contribute to family, neighborhood, community, youth involvement.

Activities through the school and community that develop a sense of connection/belonging.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

A place for youth to congregate, to recreate with adult supervision, to develop friendships.

This PCAP model builds upon developing life skills while acknowledging the need for opportunities for involvement in school, family and community. …

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Getting through Adolescence: Develop Programs That Promote Resilience
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