Child, Youth, and Family Studies, Department of


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Published as chapter forty-one in The Wiley-Blackwell Handbook of Childhood Social Development, Third Edition (2022), edited by Peter K. Smith and Craig H. Hart.


Copyright © 2022 John Wiley & Sons Ltd.


Children with disabilities experience unique challenges in developing social skills critical to achieve their social goals. Although there are individual differences, children with delays and disabilities may struggle to communicate with others, understand gestures, and take other people’s viewpoints. These differences may prevent children with disabilities from initiating and sustaining social interactions and, in turn, from developing high levels of social competence (Hebbeler & Spiker, 2016).

To support social development of children with disabilities, it is important to promote positive relationships within the family system as well as the teaching of social skills in inclusive early learning environments (Mahoney et al., 2020). The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) is a framework for supporting social emotional learning (SEL) from preschool through high school and across home and school settings (Weissberg et al., 2013). CASEL focuses on five SEL core competencies that include self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. These social and emotional competencies provide a foundation for children to adjust to challenges, develop positive relationships with peers and adults, and engage in learning tasks in ways that can benefit children with disabilities (Durlak et al., 2011).

In this chapter, we first introduce two theoretical frameworks that can guide research and practice relevant to social competence of children with disabilities. Second, we discuss personal and contextual factors that either facilitate or hinder social development of children with disabilities in everyday interactions. Third, we address cultural understandings of disability that influence children’s socialization within family and community contexts. Finally, we conclude with the implications of using social intervention approaches for children with disabilities in home, school, and community-based contexts.