''They're Not Hiding Under a Counter!'': Social Development of Adolescents with Special Needs Using Bronfenbrenner's Ecological Systems Theory
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Adolescence has been noted throughout history as a particularly turbulent period of life. Normative theory regarding adolescent social development upholds this notion, as well as stressing the importance of horizontal relationships and interaction in peer social groups. The current study examines these concepts of adolescent social development among a population of fourteen adolescents with special needs enrolled in an after school day care program. Examining the development of these adolescents within Bronfenbrenner's ecological systems theory of development demonstrates how these students' social development is highly influenced by their involvement in the after school program. The presence of caring employees allows for a higher frequency of authentic friendships of a vertical nature and fewer instances of authentic horizontal peer friendships. In addition, Bronfenbrenner' s theory highlights the nature in which parents of these adolescents foster social development among their students, attempting to encourage their development while still noting the limitations of their children's disabilities. As a whole, Bronfenbrenner' s theory provides a guiding structure through which the interconnectedness of these adolescents' support systems, particularly the employees and parents, can be understood as influencing social development.