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My teen has special needs, are they likely to behave worse than other teens?

Parents of teenagers with special needs have special challenges and may well benefit from professional support. Special needs range from physical to emotional and behavioral. One of the issues for parents of these teenagers is avoiding using these needs to justify the teenagers challenging and defiant behavior. A teenager that constantly uses their differences to support a continued run of defiant, aggressive and delinquent behavior is abdicating responsibility for their own behavior.

This form of "scape-goating" is very dangerous; it allows the teenager to hide behind their disability or difficulty using a form of emotional blackmail to get what they want. Parents need to remember that a teenager with special needs is still a teenager, subject to hormonal influences, but also capable of acting out and needing a firm hand to guide them along the way.

Certain special needs have a stronger emotional and behavioral element than others, and teenagers with these needs are likely to struggle even more with the changes of adolescence. However, the family have managing these difficulties for some time and the strategies used to support the autistic teenager are the same employed to help the autistic child. The difference for teenagers is their environment, in effect, other teenagers! Children tend to be kinder to those kids in their group who have disabilities or special needs; the same cannot be said for teenagers at high school.

Unfortunately, the special needs teenager is more likely to be subject to teasing and bullying than other teenagers, and they may become defensively aggressive in return. If they struggle with social skills they are less able to handle confrontation and less able to moderate their emotional response. Parents cannot protect them in the same way at high school and the equilibrium achieved at a supportive elementary school may be destroyed by the transition into adolescence and the move to high school, where the pressures are greater. They are more likely to escalate in their behavior and the parent's ability to support them will be severely challenged.

The special needs teenager may benefit greatly from being placed in a residential special school, away from the cruelty of other teenagers who have no experience of their condition. Away from a negative environment and supported by well trained professionals the special needs teenager will have a better chance of learning the social skills needed to deal with conflict. For the parents, raising a special needs teenager is an exhausting job, and sometimes they and the rest of the family need respite.

There are summer boot camps, specifically for teens with special needs. These give the family a breather and develop self confidence in the teenager, a good combination. Whether the special needs teenager goes to the local high school or attends a residential treatment center will depend on how well their parents are able to help them through adolescence. Ultimately, these teenagers do not necessarily behave more badly than many teenagers, but they do need more support than the average teenager.

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