Author ORCID Identifier

Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Health Sciences


Rehabilitation Sciences

First Advisor

Dr. Colleen Schneck


The aim of this dissertation is to build the repertoire of occupational therapy practitioners so that they are better prepared in the provision of services addressing social participation of students with disabilities in the general education classroom. Students with disabilities in general education classrooms tend to have greater difficulty establishing and maintaining friendships (Wight & Chapparo, 2008), have fewer reciprocated friendships (Kemp & Carter, 2002), and lower stability in relationships than peers without disabilities. Furthermore, studies indicate that students with disabilities are less social accepted (Ekornas, Heimann, Tjus, Heyerdahl, & Lundervold, 2011) and are more isolated (Nadeau & Tessier, 2006). Students are often aware of the stigma and negative attitudes that promote “disabling expectations” of them in general education classrooms (McMaugh, 2011). Social participation is important for students with disabilities as it leads to better functional and psychosocial outcomes (Richardson, 2002), decreases the likelihood of behavioral and emotional problems (Murray & Greenberg, 2006), and promotes a better subjective health status (Gerich, 2003), all of which leads to a more conducive learning environment. Occupational therapists report role confusion, a limited knowledge base, and express the need for better preparation and continuing education in psychosocial interventions for students, along with more tools and reference materials (Beck et al., 2006).

This dissertation is the accumulation and progression of four different research projects centered around social participation in the schools for students with disabilities in general education classrooms. This research includes a systematic review of the literature, a survey of occupational therapy practitioners, a phenomenological look at the lived experience of school-based team members who implemented a program to promote inclusion, and a mixed methods study utilizing ethnographic principles and social network analysis to study a case of seventh graders and their social interactions. These studies reveal the need for occupational therapy practitioners to (a) provide practical knowledge to all individuals within the social environment, (b) collaborate with team members for successful intervention, program development, and goal setting, (c) facilitate involvement in valued school roles, and (d) structure and adapt activities to promote active participation of all students. Further implications for occupational therapy practice and future research is also discussed.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)