Adolescents who have a cleft lip or palate may experience teasing, bullying, and stares from peers, but many will develop coping skills and empathy for others as a result, report researchers from the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

New research in Cleft Palate–Craniofacial Journal sought to better understand the experiences of adolescent girls who are born with a cleft lip and palate and were preparing for orthognathic surgery.

The study included seven girls, aged 15 to 20, who were interviewed in two, 1-hour sessions prior to surgery. Some of the study participants talked about being less social as a result of their cleft lip or palate, but most were hopeful that the surgery would increase their confidence level.

Those with cleft lip or palate can vacillate between feeling different from others yet liking themselves as they are, the study showed. Some are more successful at restructuring their mind-set and discounting what their peers may think about them, while others find it difficult not to worry about the perceptions of others. Still, for some these experiences helped build empathy and resilience.