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The Importance of Social Support for Students with Disabilities

written by: LauraLMSW • edited by: Elizabeth Stannard Gromisch • updated: 8/2/2012

Social support for students with disabilities bolsters academic performance and reinforces community membership. The impact of social support benefits the providers and recipients as it strengthens the abilities of students with disabilities.

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    Social Support is Beneficial to All

    Social support is a communal effort that should include service providers and the entire community membership. How a community addresses and includes its diverse members impacts the entire social group and its progress. Children with complex disabilities are likely to live with their families and continue to reside in the community as adults, which increases the need for community-based resources, services and public acceptance of the integration of persons with disabilities into the life of the community (Zipper & Simeonsson, 2005). As children with disabilities develop and become adults in the community, they either encounter or lack social supports that influence their ability to thrive in and contribute to their environment. Jane Addams, a social reformer, recognized that personal growth is interconnected with social development and viewed moral choices as emerging from social processes (Larkin, 2005). People cannot separate themselves from disabled community members because they influence each other as part of a whole. Larkin (2005) said that through community organizing activities, society is confronted with the parts of itself that it may have alienated and repressed, components it must reintegrate in order to grow in a healthier manner. Social support is preventative of alienation and repression as it addresses the needs of all of the people. Social support embraces a strengths perspective which recognizes that first and foremost, despite life’s problems, all people and environments possess strengths that can be marshaled to improve the quality of life (Dejong & Miller, 1995). For children, with disabilities or not, academic performance and successful socialization are highly influenced by the social support they receive and perceive.

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    Social Support and the Promotion of Healthy Development

    Early childhood education often promotes healthy development. Zipper and Simeonsson (2005), authors of “Developmental Vulnerability in Young Children with Disabilities", said that children experience both demands that challenge their functioning and conditions that support their development. According to the authors, infants are in need of a caregiving environment that elicits and reinforces early communication, provides opportunities for object manipulation and play, and contributes to an awareness of cause and effect. Encouraging early development is crucial for children of all abilities. Through social support children with disabilities will have greater developmental opportunities as inclusion is welcomed and embraced. Toddlers and preschool children developmentally benefit from socialization experiences in the form of small group activities, opportunities for incidental learning, and exposure to readiness skills (Zipper & Simeonsson, 2005). Children with disabilities should not be sheltered from experiences or opportunities and part of social support is the adaptation of activities to include them. The sooner that children with disabilities are integrated into the general community, the better able they will be to adapt to its demands, expectations and offerings. These gains can transfer to the academic world that requires developed communication, socialization and thought process skills.

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    Academic Performance and Social Support

    Academic potential is enhanced when social supports are reinforcing a child’s capabilities and are complementary to their needs. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) mandates that children with disabilities be placed within inclusive environments so that they can be educated with their typically developing peers and benefit from the everyday social interactions of school life, but the extent to which children with disabilities benefit from inclusion depends as much on aspects of the environment as on the child (Zipper & Simeonsson, 2005). Environmental factors are reflective of the availability and effectiveness of social support. Once identified, each child’s needs should be considered and catered to in the delivery of services. Zipper & Simeonsson (2005) said that children’s achievement and well-being are promoted when school policies give priority to placing children with disabilities with skilled, enthusiastic teachers; allow for gradual transition into the regular classroom; and maintain relatively small class sizes. The authors attributed these accommodations as protective against isolation and a self-image grounded in difference and said that the provisions of IDEA reflect a commitment to promotion of protective factors in the community. Not only do children with disabilities benefit from social supports such as well established inclusion opportunities, but children without disabilities also gain social skills and perspective. Inclusion can help children with disabilities to learn about society while nondisabled children have the opportunity to know and understand people with disabilities (Papalia et. al., 2004), demonstrating the undeniable interconnectedness and naturalness of social support. Social support offers parents with disabilities assistance and encouragement when they are burdened by stress and a sense of vulnerability. Zipper & Simeonsson (2005) said that parents of children with disabilities may distance themselves and limit the kinds of interactions that promote optimal development when they are actually in need of additional community resources and supports. A well supported family is better able to provide for their child with disabilities. When a child’s basic needs are not threatened, they will be more able to flourish while developing and achieving academically. Social support allows for the recognition and strengthening of academic talents or abilities by providing minor adjustments that accommodate special needs both in and out of the school setting.

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    References

    De Jong, P. & Miller, S. (1995). How to interview for client strengths. Social Work, 40 (6).

    Larkin, H. (2005). Social work as an integral profession. AQAL: The Journal of Integral Theory and Practice, 1(2).

    Mallon, G. P. & Hess, P. M. (2005). Child welfare for the 21st century: A handbook of practices, policies and programs. New York: Columbia University Press.

    Papalia, D. E., Olds, S. W., & Feldman, R. D. (2004). A child’s world: Infancy through adolescence. (9th ed.). Boston, MA: McGraw Hill.

    Zipper, I. & Simeonsson, R. (2005). Developmental vulnerability in young children with disabilities. Risk and Resilience in Childhood: An Ecological Perspective, 2nd Edition. Washington DC: NASW Press.