With both improved medical therapies and surgical interventions available for treating spina bifida, those born with the condition are living longer lives of improved quality. As life expectancy increases and more SB patients live into adulthood, new bio-psychosocial problems related to the transition from adolescence to adulthood arise.

Growing up with physical disabilities such as spina bifida presents adolescents with a range of challenges – not only for body structures and functions – but also for activities and participation.

This translates into a need for medical, rehabilitative and psychosocial support for adolescents with disabilities during what is, for most everyone, a challenging stage of life – a period of transition that prepares individuals for adulthood. Added to this is the challenge of adapting and offering optimal transitional care to patients moving from pediatric to adult health facilities.

Compared to non-disabled teens, during this period of bio-psychosocial development, adolescents with spina bifida or other physical disabilities may face a greater struggle in areas such as increased independence, developing peer relationships, maintaining academic performance and participating in activities.

Dependence on family or others and difficulties at school with peer relationships and learning were central to her perceived level of life quality.

But with these transitions come just as many opportunities for growth and learning. Gabi’s case and the three-week program she undertook to focus on just such issues highlighted some of these.

Compared to non-disabled teens, during this period of bio-psycho-social development, adolescents with spina bifida or other physical disabilities may face a greater struggle in areas such as increased independence.

Gabi’s life experiences and challenges living as an adolescent with spina bifida are not atypical. Dependence on family or others and difficulties at school with peer relationships and learning were central to her perceived level of life quality.

Within the comprehensive rehabilitation management these issues, through a thorough assessment, were distilled to a set of specific goals and according interventions to improve mobility, self-care and peer relationships. The three-week program offered to adolescents with spinal cord injuries (many as a result of SB) integrated a range of comprehensive interventions specifically targeting common age-specific problems and issues.

Individually focused interventions centered on the needs of each patient and, as in Gabi’s case, they often aimed overall to improve mobility and specific self-care activities. Group activities accounted for a great part of the program and did much to help social competencies.

These helped not only to build self-esteem and skills at interpersonal relationships, but also friendships among peers with a common and shared life experience.

In the end, the program was a success for Gabi who made some significant steps towards both greater independence and potentially improving her peer relationships. Although there was still work to be done (primarily in the form of ongoing psychological therapy, but also in a new social outlet: a wheelchair club), her experiences over the three weeks offered her some new skills and perspectives on how to deal with peer relationships with her “walking” school mates.

Group activities helped not only to build self-esteem and skills at interpersonal relationships, but also friendships among peers with a common and shared life experience.