Special Education ETDs

Publication Date



This dissertation explores the relational worlds of a single child with a significant disability. Previous research on relationships for individuals with significant disabilities has heavily relied on the perceptions of and information from others, rather than the individual with a disability him or herself. This research is an ethnographic exploration of a single child with a disability, Julia, and the dynamic ecosystem of her relational worlds. The affect and behaviors of this child were explored in the school setting. The findings revealed that friendships' were present for Julia, and that they resulted in expressions of enjoyment and happiness. These friendships, however, were found to be inconsistent with more typical manifestations of this relationship type, and were far fewer in number than other types of engagement, including solitary, fringe, unilateral and other mutual forms of engagement. The findings also suggested that, while aspects of Julia's cognition, communication and experience contributed to the kinds and qualities of relationships, the larger ecology of her relational worlds were also of significant impact to relationship formation. The findings of this study support that for positive relationships to develop, and for the maximal growth and satisfaction of individuals with significant disabilities, greater attention must be given to not only how the individual uniquely responds to and benefits from relationships, but also how the ecosystem of relational worlds can be better understood and altered so as to accommodate opportunities for and the growth of relationships for the individual.


Children with disabilities--Psychology--Case studies, Interpersonal relations in children--Case studies, Friendship in children--Case studies, Social integration--Case studies

Document Type




Degree Name

Special Education

Level of Degree


Department Name

Special Education

First Committee Member (Chair)

Copeland, Susan

Second Committee Member

Keefe, Elizabeth

Third Committee Member

Armstrong, Jan