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National Center on Secondary Education and Transition: Creating opportunities for youth with disabilities to achieve successful futures.

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Youth Development & Leadership

This topic explores the benefits of youth development and leadership, and how youth can get involved in opportunities to develop leadership skills.


At its most basic level, "youth development" is any opportunity that promotes healthy adolescent development, which includes a sense of belonging and purpose in life, a positive self-image, and the ability to attain future goals. It also includes being able to identify barriers and challenges and navigate through them. The most effective youth development programs and opportunities emphasize and build upon the strengths and assets of young people.

"Youth leadership" is any opportunity or activity that builds a young personís skills, including the ability to actively create and effect change. A young person doesnít necessarily have to lead an activity to be a leader. Youth leadership can also be about using leadership ability to influence others and to create positive change (definitions adapted from the Search Institute).

Addressing youth development and leadership issues is critical for families, youth with disabilities, and others who support them in achieving their future goals. Improving access and participation in this area provides:

  • youth with the skills and abilities, both personally and within the community, to achieve a successful transition into adult life
  • families with a pathway to assist their children in planning for the future
  • a solid foundation to help youth become involved, responsible, and in charge of planning for their own future

As you think about development and leadership activities for youth with disabilities, you may want to consider the following questions:

  1. What are you and your organization currently doing to support the inclusion of youth with disabilities in a wide variety of youth development and leadership activities and opportunities?
  2. What resources are available within your local community to support inclusion of youth with disabilities in these types of activities and opportunities?
  3. What additional resources or supports may be necessary to increase the involvement of youth with disabilities in youth development and leadership?

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National Center on Secondary Education and Transition
Institute on Community Integration
University of Minnesota
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This page was last updated on January 12, 2022.