Rebellious Behaviour from an Adolescent with a Developmental Disability

“I don’t want to go to summer camp this year! I hate summer camp!  You can’t make me go!”  The frustrated and confused mother can’t understand why her 15-year old daughter is being so difficult.  She has gone every other year.  This camp has staff that knows her and is trained in working with children with developmental disabilities.  The mother stops and asks “Then what do you want to do this summer?”  The daughter replies “A camp that does not treat me like a baby!”.  At that moment the mother realized her teen had outgrown this summer camp, and that she never gave her daughter the choice on what she wanted to do. The mother chose it for her daughter because of her disability.     

This mother’s best intention, as with many other parents, is to provide a safe and nurturing environment for their child. As any child grows older they begin to learn their likes and dislikes, which can change during adolescence.  As children become older, they may refuse to attend past activities or have different opinions on things as part of their self development.

Any child requires different factors to grow into healthy adult.  The Search Institute identified the following building blocks of healthy development—known as Developmental Assets. These assets help children grow up healthy, caring, and responsible. In their research they discovered:

  • The importance for youth to experience self development.
  • A youth with developmental disabilities also experiences a journey on self discovery.
  • Allowing a youth to choose meaningful life experiences can create the foundation for healthy development.

As a parent you can accomplish this by;

  • Setting goals that are realistic and motivating for your child.   You can never “over praise” your child.  The more a child feels successful, the more likely he or she will continue to pursue other goals.
  • Using “active listening” with your child.  Ask good questions or observe what their interests are.  Paraphrase back what they may have said or label their actions.  This will show you are empathetic towards what they are saying or doing.

Kathy Snow, a parent who writes and discusses her own experiences of raising a child diagnosed with a disability, refers to a term “Altered Parenting.” The key advice she shares (which I often share with my clients) is:

“Let’s treat our children like they don’t have disabilities, such as respecting them to be responsible and giving them opportunities to do so, and ensuring they participate in age-appropriate activities.”  Snow, K.  (2011). Retrieved from

As adults we need to balance our need to protect our teens with their need to be independent in as much as they can be.  In understanding this and allowing some freedom for growth, we decrease rebellious behaviour, whether a teen has a developmental disability or not.

Share your experience:

Parenting a child with special needs is not always easy. We’d love to hear more about your experiences and there are many ways you can talk to one of us directly:

  • Leave us a comment below – we’d love your feedback
  • Talk to us on Twitter: @haltonparents
  • Email us at
  • Call the HaltonParents line for parenting information or to speak directly to a Public Health Nurse (every Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.) Simply dial 311 or 905-825-6000.

About this guest blogger:

Natalie Busato is a Behaviour Consultant with Family and Community Behaviour Services who works with families that have children or youth with Autism or Developmental Disabilities.

This entry was posted in Children & Tweens, Children & Tweens with Special Needs, Emotional Well-Being & Mental Health for Your Child/Tween, Emotional Well-Being & Mental Health for Your Teen, Keeping Your Child/Tween Safe, Keeping Your Teen Safe, Parenting, Parenting Your Child/Tween, Parenting Your Teen, Teens, Teens With Special Needs and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Rebellious Behaviour from an Adolescent with a Developmental Disability

  1. ken says:

    I found this blog informative! Thanks Mrs. Busato

  2. Alethea says:

    Boy is this timely! But how to make it fit my home. My adopted son, now 18 with FAS, developmental delay, and something on the autism spectrum because this “don’t like being treated like I’m a baby” person seemingly overnight. It’s his senior year in high school and WHAM! “I just want to be able to do what I want to do!” (Right now that means chores–if he feels like it. Hanging up clothes, making bed, etc…if/when he feels like it–no lawn mowing, etc)

    What do you want to do?
    “Hang out with my friends.” (After telling me that only 3 people want to hang out with him–all girls, 2 seniors like him and one a 14-year-old freshman.) I had to convince him that going to that 14 year old’s house and asking if she could come out and play basketball with him and a few other neighbor kids was NOT a good idea. Just for starters. When I tried to arrange for him to hang out with the older 2, they didn’t like the fact that I took him to meet them.

    He’s a very handsome boy…and the girls who have similar disabilities or who just want to be seen with a cute-faced boy have been on his trail since 7th grade.

    How do you keep a boy who doesn’t accept that he has limiting abilities safe?

    • stephanie madill says:

      Hi there!
      It’s 10 years later. How did your boy make out so far?
      I have an almost 13 year old daughter and it’s helpful to know what the road ahead looks like.

  3. Pingback: Mind Brew

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s