Preparing for adulthood: a systematic review of life skill programs for youth with physical disabilities.

PURPOSE: With advances in health care, an increasing number of youth with physical disabilities are surviving into adulthood. For youth to reach their full potential, a number of critical life skills must be learned. Specific learning opportunities are important as youth with physical disabilities may be limited in the life experiences necessary to acquire these skills. The aim of this study was to determine the effectiveness of life skill programs emphasizing independent functioning in preparation for adulthood among youth with physical disabilities.

METHODS: A comprehensive search of electronic databases from 1985 to 2006 was undertaken to identify empirical studies examining the effectiveness of life skill programs for youth and young adults with acquired and congenital physical disabilities. Eligible studies were those with a comparison group and that targeted life skills (as defined by the World Health Organization).

RESULTS: Six studies met the inclusion criteria. All used a multi-component group intervention containing a real-world or role-playing experiential component. Five of the six studies demonstrated short-term improvements in targeted life skills. Conclusions are limited because of heterogeneity of interventions, skill focus, disabilities, and outcome measures with respect to the effectiveness of individual components of the programs. CONCLUSION: With more youth with physical disabilities surviving into adulthood, there is a need to ensure that they have the skills to successfully manage life demands. There are relatively few rigorously designed, published studies that have evaluated the effectiveness of life skill programs. Large-sample, randomized, controlled studies are needed.