Innovations in Supporting Youth with Disabilities

A medical home is a regular source of family-centered, comprehensive, and culturally informed primary care. This model facilitates partnerships between patients, their health care providers, and, when appropriate, the patient’s family in a health care setting. Evidence suggests the medical home model can lead to improved health outcomes for children with special health care needs.1

One promising model for adolescent health care that also may be appropriate for many adolescents with disabilities is school-based health centers. These centers are becoming increasingly common and have been found to increase access to care, and improve mental health, resilience, and use of contraceptives. Another innovative practice is represented by clinics, such as the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center, that integrate health and mental health care and social services at one accessible location.

TAG in Action: Health Centers in Schools is an innovative, integrated program aimed at improving student health.

There are roles at multiple levels—the young person, their family, the health system, and the community—to promote the resilience of adolescents with disabilities.2 Like all individuals, this group deserves to be defined and judged not by what they lack, but by their strengths. An inclusive society provides appropriate accommodations and supports for people of differing abilities. When adolescents with disabilities are treated with respect, and their contributions are valued, all of society benefits. For example, curb cuts make getting around easier for everyone—not just those with disabilities.

Adolescents with disabilities, like all adolescents, thrive when they have self-efficacy,3,4 or the belief in one’s ability to meet challenges and succeed. Providing opportunities for adolescents to take action and overcome obstacles can help adolescents build their self-efficacy. The path to successful independence is seldom linear for young people—especially for young people with disabilities. However, recognizing the gifts and potential in all individuals encourages self-sufficiency and autonomy. It also promotes positive youth development, regardless of one’s circumstances.4


1 Lichstein, J. C., Reem, M. G., & Mann, M. M. (2018). Access to the medical home among children with and without special health care needs. Pediatrics 142(6), e20181795. back to top

2 Halfon, N., Houtrow, A., Larson, K., & Newachek, P. W. (2012). The changing landscape of disability in childhood. Future of Children, 22(1), 13-42. back to top

3 Cramm, J. M., Strating, M. M. H., Roebroeck, M. E., & Nieboer, A. P. (2013). The importance of general self-efficacy for the quality of life of adolescents with chronic conditions. Social Indicators Research, 113(1), 551-561. back to top

4 Lindsay, S., Kingsnorth, S., & Hamdani, Y. (2011). Barriers and facilitators of chronic illness self-management among adolescents: A review and future directions. Journal of Nursing and Healthcare of Chronic Illness, 3(3), 186–208. back to top