The transition for teens from childhood into adult life crosses a number of spheres. A teen will prepare to move from school to work, from living within their family’s home to independent living, and from dependence on their parents to independence as their own decision-maker. It’s an exciting time of discovery and growth.
Healthcare is another important sphere of adult responsibility. As teens grow, there are milestones to face as they take charge of their own healthcare. Many questions arise:
- How do you find yourself a new adult primary care physician? Why do I need one?
- What do I do about health insurance?
- Do I know how to schedule an appointment?
- Can I fill a prescription?
- How should I take care of my health?
The good news is the transition to adult healthcare doesn’t have to be scary. A teen can build confidence by working on these key questions.
Understanding the Transition to Adult Care
There are several important parts to the pediatric-to-adult healthcare transition for all teens and young adults:
- Financing: Learn about health insurance options so that as teens become young adults, they can make the best decision for their coverage.
- Finding an adult primary care physician: A teen may have known their pediatric physician since they were young, but the next task is to find a doctor who can meet their changing adult needs.
- Becoming a legal decision maker: Parents or caregivers are responsible for health decisions during childhood. Legally this decision-making power moves to young adults, typically at age 18. Using tools to support youth and young adults during this change is important. Now teens must learn to listen, ask questions, weigh choices and make the right decisions for their future.
- Maintaining healthy habits: Keeping your body fit takes attention. Teens need to sleep enough, eat right, get enough activity, manage stress and keep their bodies safe and clean. Learning to avoid risky health behaviors like smoking or drugs is also important.
- Self-managing healthcare needs: Teens must learn to prepare to be adults by listening, asking questions, weighing choices and working on making the right decisions for their future.
The teen-to-adult transition may look somewhat different for each individual. Most teens do not have chronic health conditions. Therefore they need to address three main issues:
- How to stay healthy
- How to navigate within the healthcare system, and
- How to make decisions about their health
Teens who have special healthcare needs should work on a few additional planning steps. For example, youth with conditions like diabetes, cystic fibrosis or sickle cell anemia should learn all they can about how their condition affects their health and how to take charge in getting their unique needs met. Some youth may also need extra help in problem-solving and reasoning skills because of their limits due to the intellectual, physical or emotional disabilities. These youth should be encouraged to reach high as their own self-advocate while also getting decision-making support from advocates or guardians.
Pediatric to adult care
The right way to make the pediatric to adult transition is to take an active role. Teens need to practice stepping up in caring and speaking for themselves. Parents need to find ways to step back and create the space to allow their teen to step up while also teaching and role-modeling the health skills that every adult needs.
Many people notice that the healthcare model for children is designed differently than the model for adults. A children’s hospital will create a friendly, playful and safe environment. In the adult healthcare setting, young adults will be treated like the adults they want to be, with their privacy and safety protected. These differences are appropriate to the different needs of patients at different ages. Family and others within each person’s circle of support are important resources during the early periods of preparation for the transfer to adult care and the later period of adjustment into the adult system.
At Riley Children's, your healthcare team can help with the transition process. A teen should ask their doctor:
- How are my health needs changing as my body grows up?
- How should I take on more responsibilities in caring for myself?
- When do I need to move to an adult provider?
- Are there special aspects of my health that I should focus us now?
There are programs and resources available at Riley Children's, including the statewide transition support program called the Center for Young Adults With Conditions of Childhood (CYACC) and the Riley Teen Leadership Council.
The destination in this transition is an exciting one: a young adult growing into an activated and capable adult, engaging in the appropriate healthcare service to keep them healthy and strong.
There are several ways to get help in the transition process—at Riley Children's Health, within the state of Indiana and with online educational resources. The Edward A. Block Family Library at Riley Children's offers several resources. Riley Social Workers are also available to assist in navigating needs and possible resources.
The Indiana Transition Workbook gives ways to explore, learn about and prepare for adult life. Use the workbook as a guide. Pick the parts of the workbook that fit your needs.
- Part 1 - Introduction & Health: Learn about your physical and mental health to become a manager of your health.
- Part 2 - School & Work: Learn about college and careers as you plan for your future.
- Part 3 - Home: Build a budget, learn life skills and know how to get the help you need.
- Part 4 - Community: Learn how to be a good citizen, build relationships and get involved.
This workbook was created by the Center for Youth and Adults with Conditions of Childhood.
These state-based organizations provide resources on independent living:
- INSILC. The Indiana Statewide Independent Living Council, formerly known as Indiana Council for Independent Living (ICOIL), works to develop and implement the Independent Living philosophy in Indiana.
- Ability Indiana. Locally in Indianapolis, this Center for Independent Living offers resources and education to empower people with disabilities to set and accomplish their goals.
Several Indiana parent-to-parent organizations for families with children with special needs provide educational and support resources, including around the time of transition:
- Indiana Family to Family. This organization provides information, training, and one-on-one support to Indiana families of children and youth with additional health and education needs and the professionals who serve them.
- IN*SOURCE. This parent organization provides information and training to ensure effective educational programs and appropriate services for children and young adults with disabilities.
Visit this trusted national website for more information:
GotTransition.org. The Center for Health Care Transition Improvement provides a national focus on the transition of youth to adult healthcare. They aim to improve the transition from pediatric to adult healthcare with information for health professionals, youth and families.