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Medical Concerns for Special Needs Teens Transitioning to Adulthood

As your child’s 18th birthday approaches, you may feel happy with a sense of dread mixed in. They finally made it to adulthood! But, with this celebration, comes many questions like “How will my special-needs teen transition into adulthood?” and “What do I need to do, now?” Learn how you can prepare your special-needs teen for adulthood with Heather Bartz, DO, internal medicine and pediatrics specialist at Banner - University Medicine Internal Medicine Clinic.

Formulating a Transition Plan

When in doubt, plan it out. Transition plans help teens and their parents prepare for the move from childhood to adulthood.

“It is never too early to think about transitioning to adult care. Begin discussions with your pediatric doctors in the mid-teens,” said Dr. Bartz. “It is important for families to know which of their specialists will continue to follow them and those that will not. It is also important to find out from their doctors and specialists if there is an adult provider they recommend, as that helps the referral process.

“There is no ‘perfect’ age to transition and it is different for every patient. Usually, the first step is transitioning to an adult primary care physician. Many of the specialists you see may follow special needs patients into their 20's, but general pediatricians do not.

“When looking for an adult provider, many people like to find someone trained in internal medicine and pediatrics (med-peds) or family medicine since they have some pediatric background, but any internal medicine provider can provide good care as well. The key is finding someone who will have the time and expertise to manage a special needs patient,” said Dr. Bartz.

Preparing for the Transition

After you have found a provider that meets your needs, take an hour or so to sit down and organize all the important paperwork you’ve accumulated over the past 18 years.

“When a patient and family plans to transition, it helps ensure the new provider has records and is prepared for a complicated visit. So, either have records sent in ahead of time or make sure you bring records with you, including vaccines, recent lab work or imaging studies, names of specialists and recent notes. Families should talk with their doctors, talk with their friends and other patients to find out the various experiences patients have had with different facilities,” Dr. Bartz said.

Your baby is growing up, and as bittersweet as it is, the best thing you can do for your child is prepare them for adulthood. To find a Banner Health doctor near you, visit bannerhealth.com.

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