Considerable research has documented the importance of personal relationships as "protective factors"36 against a variety of adolescent risk behaviors. For example, results regarding factors associated with emotional health, youth violence, substance use, and sexuality from the National Longitudinal Study on Adolescent Health (Add Health), the largest, most comprehensive survey of adolescents to date, provide "consistent evidence that perceived caring and connectedness to others is important in understanding the health of young people today" (Resnick et al. 1997, p. 830). Similarly, the World Health Organization (WHO) reports from a synthesis of evidence from 52 countries that positive relationships with parents and with other adults protect adolescents against early engagement in sexual activity, substance use, and depression (World Health Organization 2002). However, some adolescents find it difficult to establish positive relationships with adults and/or peers, including some youth with disabilities (Gresham and MacMillan 1997; Marder, Wagner, and Sumi 2003; Nowicki 2003).
NLTS2 provides the first opportunity to examine the personal relationships reported by youth with disabilities.37 This chapter examines the views they report regarding their relationships with their families and friends and with other adults, and the extent they rely on these people for support. Results are reported for youth with disabilities as a group and as they differ for youth across disability categories. Differences for selected demographic subgroups are reported when they are statistically significant. Comparisons also are made with youth in the general population when data are available.
36 Protective factors have been defined as "those aspects of the individual and his or her environment that buffer or moderate the effect of risk" (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 2001).
37 Readers are reminded that findings are national estimates for the subsample of youth with disabilities who could report their own perceptions and expectations, not a sample of all youth with disabilities in the NLTS2 age range. See chapter 1 for further details on the group that is the focus of this report.