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Perceptions and Expectations of Youth With Disabilities  (NLTS2)
NCSER 2007-3006
September 2007

Executive Summary

A considerable body of research explores the relationships between subjective aspects of youth's experiences—e.g., their attitudes, perceptions, motivations, and self-efficacy—and their achievements in school (e.g., Akey 2006; Anderson, Hattie, and Hamilton 2005; Liu et al. 2006; Tuckman 1999). The related recognition that youth's attitudes are a potentially important ingredient in the successful transition of youth to early adulthood is reflected in the National Standards and Quality Indicators: Transition Toolkit for Systems Improvement (National Alliance for Secondary Education and Transition 2005). The National Longitudinal Transition Study-2 (NLTS2), funded by the National Center for Special Education Research at the Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education, was initiated in 2001 to provide a national picture of the characteristics and experiences of youth with disabilities, including their self-representations1 of themselves, their schooling, their personal relationships, and their hopes for the future. This report presents findings drawn from the first time data were collected directly from youth on these topics; they were ages 15 through 19 at the time (2003).

The large majority of information reported in this document comes from responses of youth with disabilities either to a telephone interview2 or to a self-administered mail survey, which contained a subset of key items from the telephone interview. Data from the two sources were combined for the analyses presented in this report. A few additional items are from in-person interviews with youth conducted in conjunction with a direct assessment of their academic skills. When similar data are available, comparisons are made between youth with disabilities and the same-age youth in the general population.

It is important to note that the subgroup of youth who could respond for themselves differs in several ways from youth who were unable to respond, according to their parents.3 For example, youth respondents are significantly more likely to have higher cognitive and self-care skills and are less likely to have sensory, physical, or communication difficulties.

In this report, NLTS2 findings address the following questions:

  • How do youth with disabilities describe the kind of people they are—their feelings about themselves and their lives, and their skills and competencies?

  • How do youth describe their secondary school experiences?

  • How do youth characterize their personal relationships?

  • What are their reported expectations for the future?

  • How do these factors differ for youth with different disability and demographic characteristics?


1 Self-representations are "attributes or characteristics of the self that are consciously acknowledged by the individual through language—that is, how one describes oneself" (Harter 1999, p. 3).

2 This report includes only data from youth who responded for themselves.

3 Only group differences that are statistically significant at at least the p < .01 level are mentioned in the text throughout this report.