Impact Feature Issue on Supporting the Social Well-Being of Children and Youth with Disabilities

Advocating for Children's Social-Emotional Well-Being in Educational Settings:
Tips for Families (sidebar)


Susan B. Palmer Research Professor at the Beach Center on Disability, University of Kansas, Lawrence

Any child who is not doing well in the social-emotional area of their life will be less likely to do well in their academic performance and overall participation in the school environment. Especially for those who experience barriers to social inclusion at school – which includes many students with disabilities – attention to social-emotional well-being is an important part of supporting success in school and beyond. There are many ways that a family can advocate for the social-emotional well-being of a child with disabilities within educational settings. Below are a few:

  • If a child has social-emotional needs that must be addressed in order to support academic learning and participation in the school community, it's important to address these in the child's Individualized Education Program (IEP).
  • In IEPs, families may want to ask for inclusion of short-term objectives (such as objectives for a single quarter) related to yearly goals for social-emotional development. And they may want to ask that progress on these objectives be reported on the child's report cards throughout the year. These steps help ensure everyone stays on track and that strategies for supporting social-emotional well-being can be modified as needed.
  • In looking at a child's social skills and behaviors, it's often helpful to compare his or her school and home behaviors to see if these are consistent or different. Families and school personnel should meet to discuss differences in home/school behaviors, especially when problems are present in school but not at home, and try to understand the reasons for the differences and how to address them.
  • An important dimension of social-emotional well-being is how a child is viewed and treated by others. A child might experience bullying or exclusion by other students. Children with disabilities may not have enough opportunities to interact with non-disabled peers. Issues related to broader school policies or practices may set-up barriers to inclusion, so families should discuss these with officials at the specific school or with school district supervisory personnel. Among the resources that can support such conversations are PACER Center's dispute resolution resources Operation Respect.