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How do teenagers cope with their hand difference?

The teenage years present huge challenges for everyone! Young people tend to become self-conscious as their body changes and worry about how they look, especially compared to others.

Young people become preoccupied by how they think the world perceives them and feel daunted by the all-important task of trying to “fit in”. How peers perceive us also becomes a focus and added to this, thinking about romantic relationships.

Teenagers with hand differences can find navigating these times particularly tricky. Here at Aussie Hands, we recommend that parents do their best to model body-positive behaviour and conversations. It is important for young adults to have a supportive and accepting network of family and friends. We also recommend seeking the support of a mental health professional (such as a psychologist or counsellor) if your teenager is finding this time especially challenging.

What about career prospects?

As teenagers progress through secondary school, they will be asked to think about the kind of career they want to pursue. They’ll be expected to make subject choices that support their aspirations and, eventually, place applications for further education or the workforce.

Children with hand differences are no different from any other in this respect, and we recommend that parents encourage their child to explore as many options as possible without assuming that their choices will be limited. We are especially keen for young adults to feel empowered to follow their dreams, and to make confident choices based on their talents and aspirations.

People sometimes ask us how to approach the job application process. They wonder when is the best time to mention their hand difference (e.g. in an application letter, interview or once they are offered a job) and worry that they may be overlooked or discriminated against.

We asked a range of adults in the Aussie Hands community about their experiences with job applications. Many told us that, during a job interview, they did not try to hide their hand difference but they also did not draw special attention to it. They felt that it was not relevant, as it in no way hindered their chance of doing the job well.

Some said that when the hand difference was noted, they used it as an opportunity to talk about their ability to perform every task that the role entailed and mention if any adjustments might be required. Some people had offered to carry out a day of work experience in the role in order to demonstrate that they could perform every task required. The applicant can show that they were every bit as able as someone without a hand difference.

What about Driving?

Learning to drive is a big step for all young adults in terms of gaining independence and opening up opportunities to work and socialise. Young adults with a hand difference are fully capable of obtaining drivers licences and driving safely.

As a first step, we recommend contacting the road traffic authority in your State or Territory, as requirements differ across Australia. Sometimes, there are additional requirements that need to be met before a licence can be issued, for example an assessment from an Occupational Therapist who specialises in driving with limb differences. The type of hand difference (e.g. whether the young person has a wrist) will be taken into consideration. And any aids you are required to use while driving are outlined.

Here at Aussie Hands, we have a number of tips and tricks for young people learning to drive that we are happy to share. When choosing a car to drive, for example, we’d recommend giving some thought as to where the indicators are and how the driver will access them easily. For example, cars made in Europe tend to have the indicators on the left of the steering wheel, cars made in Asia on the right. Some cars can be adapted so that the indicators are operated by push-buttons on the steering wheel. You can also get indicators adapted to be a push button system on your steering wheel.

Spinner knobs and handles are also available to make it easier to turn the steering wheel using one hand.

Here are a couple of videos of adults with hand differences working out in the gym