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July 2018: Helping Youth with Disabilities Thrive

Youth with disabilities are a diverse population who often have specialized healthcare and educational needs. When these needs are adequately met, youth with disabilities can thrive. A spotlight in the HHS Office of Adolescent Health’s Adolescent Health: Think, Act, Grow® (TAG) Playbook provides information about youth with disabilities and how parents and youth-serving professionals can support them.

Meeting the Needs of Youth with Disabilities

Nearly one in five youth ages 12-17 has an identified special healthcare need. Although estimates vary, it is even more common for youth to have a chronic health condition at some point during childhood. While youth with disabilities or chronic health conditions have needs that are more complex than those without such conditions, their needs are less likely to be met. These young people are more likely to face barriers and social inequalities that affect well-being, such as living in a low-income neighborhood, experiencing stigma and bullying, and being suspended from school.

Healthcare Considerations

For all youth, making the transition from adolescence to adulthood is a complex process. However, youth with disabilities moving from pediatric to adult healthcare can experience significant gaps in continuity of health insurance coverage, confidentiality, and guidance around risky behaviors. Got Transition offers many resources to help, including the Transition QuickGuide, which helps young people take charge of their health.

Educational Support

Youth with disabilities also have diverse educational needs. Although federal legislation guarantees all students the right to a free education that meets their needs until age 21, states and school districts follow various policies that can complicate access to appropriate accommodations and services. To learn about the special education services that are available for students with disabilities, visit the U.S. Department of Education's Individual with Disabilities Education Act website.

Strategies for Increasing Support

Fortunately, there are several promising practices that aim to promote and maintain the health of youth with disabilities. One of these is the medical home, a model for delivering primary care in a setting that is family-centered, culturally informed, and comprehensive in its approach to health and wellness. School-based health centers are another strategy that has shown to increase students’ access to care, improve their mental health and resilience, and promote healthy behaviors.

Youth with disabilities and the people who care for them can engage with a number of organizations for support. Many of these provide tools for self-advocacy, as well as peer support and mentoring.

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  • High-quality, coordinated care is important for all youth, but coordination can be difficult for those with disabilities and their families. The HHS Office of Adolescent Health has information on youth with disabilities and chronic conditions, including the challenges they face and opportunities to support and empower them. https://bit.ly/2vwJ74B
  • Youth with disabilities are more likely than their peers to have their needs go unmet. However, they thrive with access to healthcare services and support from their communities. The Adolescent Health: Think, Act, Grow® (TAG) Playbook provides research- and practice-based action steps aimed at improving the health of young people with disabilities and all of America’s adolescents. https://bit.ly/2FMDZCw


  • Youth with disabilities and chronic conditions are less likely to have their healthcare needs met than their peers. https://bit.ly/2vwJ74B via @TeenHealthGov #TAG42Mil
  • In 2016, only 17% of youth with special healthcare needs and 14% of youth ages 12-17 without special healthcare needs received support transitioning from pediatric to adult healthcare. https://bit.ly/2FMDZCw #TAG42Mil
  • Learn about the challenges faced by youth with disabilities and get action steps aimed at improving their health from the Adolescent Health: Think, Act, Grow® (TAG) Playbook: https://bit.ly/2FMDZCw #TAG42Mil
Content created by Office of Adolescent Health
Content last reviewed on August 23, 2018