5 Stages of Adjustment to Disability

5 stages of adjustment to disability

Every human being is likely to face some form of disability during their lifetime.

Coping with such changes becomes an important facet of survival.

Even if you’re born with a disability, you still need a coping mechanism.

This is because once you become aware of your surroundings and environs, you begin to see that you’re not like everyone else (you might even be treated differently). And you’ll begin to think of yourself as different and not ‘normal’.

However, because you aren’t like the rest of the other individuals doesn’t mean that you’re abnormal.

Erasing such a notion is the first step to promoting a healthy mental lifestyle.

Table of Contents

The Birth of a Disability

When the news of a disability breaks, it seems that the whole world has come crashing down on you.

You go through a whole lot of things like denial, depression, and anger. And you may even attempt to commit suicide because you simply cannot come to terms with becoming someone else.

But the fact and the reality is that you have not become someone else, you are still the same person.

The change that has occurred to you is only a big threat to the way you perceive yourself now and the concepts that you have held regarding how you think about and see yourself.

You have to learn to adapt to these changes that have occurred and adjust to the disability that you’re now experiencing. To help you in understanding this, there are certain stages of adjustment that a disabled individual goes through when a disability occurs.

Five of these stages will be thoroughly explained one after the other.

You should also note that your caregiver (doctor, therapist, nurse, or family member) has a major role to play in these stages that will help in adjusting to your disability.

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The Phases of Adjustment to Disability

stages of adjustment to disability

1. Shock

Quite a number of things tend to take place in this stage. One is denial and refusal of the diagnosis of the disability.

You begin to think that this isn’t actually happening to you. You refuse to accept the fact that you’re the one being spoken about.

You choose to ignore and not recognize it because you still cannot come to terms with accepting such a diagnosis.

This stage may even extend to the state of laughing at those who are concerned about you because you are wondering why they are so concerned when you aren’t even concerned (you are actually concerned but you’re unable to realize it because you’re in a state of shock).

This stage might also continue if you have a poor mental state of health and you just never seem to get out of it (a typical example is a patient who falls into PTSD).

However, when reality actually hits, for example testing your physical limitation as regards your abilities, you find out that your body movements have become restricted.

And you’re unable to do some of the things you used to do seamlessly.

This opportunity enables you to get out of this state of shock and accept the reality of your disability.

2. Acknowledgement and Expectations

Acknowledging and expecting to get out of your disability as soon as possible comes next.

Acknowledgment marks the beginning of a new dawn in your life and the beginning of your adaptation to your physical state of life.

For example, a lot of things around the house and your environment are adapted to suit your new situation.

Thus, because you have realized that you’re now disabled, you automatically want to recover as quickly as possible and get out of that condition.

You begin to consider all possible cures in your mind and you might even go to the extent of expecting a miraculous cure.

During this stage, you have a truckload of resentment against your inability and body restrictions even though you’ve accepted the reality of your disability.

Hence, the only way to advance from this stage is to realize that your disability is permanent (this is in most cases when the disability of the patient is actually permanent).

It is also important not to slip into hopelessness because even the permanency of your disability is dependent on the severity of the damage caused to your body.

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3. Grief

Some experts could also term it as mourning or anger. Grief, which is a result of your new condition, can last for weeks.

And it may lead to suicide consideration.

This is because you begin to feel that you have lost everything including your abilities, self-esteem, courage, and willingness to live.

At this stage, your previous thought and expectations of a miraculous cure slowly decline. And you begin to realize that there is no other alternative than to live with the disability.

You might begin to get angry and become unintentionally hostile to those around you.

This is because you believe that they don’t know what it feels like to suddenly become incomplete and dependent on others for the rest of their lives.

It is the duty of your caregiver to make you realize that you can still lead a normal life despite your limitations.

All you have to do is to adapt to that style of normality. And develop the mindset that despite your disability, you can still achieve most of the things you would have loved to do without the disability.

Related: How to Easily Win a Bipolar Disability Case

4. Developing Your Coping Mechanism

adjustment to disability

This stage signifies the growth of an optimistic mindset towards your disability.

You begin to accommodate the accomplishments that you have achieved through your disability, work towards becoming less dependent on others, and accept the new norm birthed by adapting to your disability.

Although you’re very much aware of your restrictions, you’ve grown to be able to maneuver your disabilities.

Your caregiver needs to be diplomatic at this stage by not making you see only the advantages of your disability but also the disadvantages and how you can go about it.

5. Adjustment

This is the final stage where you have fully come to terms with the fact that the disability is now a part of you. A stage where you’re no longer resisting or denying the condition.

You begin to see the disability in a new light and as a part of you.

A certain form of satisfaction is bound to arise both physically and psychologically as long as there is constant encouragement from your environment, caregiver, or family members.

5 Stages of Adjustment to Disability


My love for the disabled community started when I helped a blind man cross the road at around age 6. Fast forward to decades later, I became the caregiver of my grandma, who lost her ability to speak in her 90s. This blog helps me to produce helpful content that aligns with my passion.

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