Date of Award

January 2020

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Educational Foundations & Research

First Advisor

Cheryl A. Hunter


Social interactions and friendships with peers have been found to be essential to children’s and adolescents’ development, learning, and overall quality of life. However, research shows children and adolescents with severe disabilities and limited verbal language have fewer friendships and quality social interaction with peers than those without disabilities. This still occurs today, despite the implementation of the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) legislation in 1978. One of the goals of the LRE was to maximize the opportunities children and adolescents with disabilities have when it comes to social interactions with peers in the general education classroom. However, as the general education classroom is not always deemed the most appropriate learning environment for students with severe needs, they receive very little of their education outside of their specialized classrooms. Knowing how important social interaction and peer relationships are when it comes to development, learning, and overall quality of life, it becomes essential to understand why these research findings are not being implemented into practice on a larger scale. Thus, this three-article dissertation aims to explore how past, current, and future research on social interactions and friendship impact how we educate students with disabilities and limited verbal language. Further, this study aims to provide educators, policymakers, and researchers a holistic understanding of why social inclusion and peer relationships are essential to how well students with disabilities and limited verbal language succeed in school, their sense of belonging, and their overall quality of life.