Social Acceptance and Rejection in Children with Disabilities
Although there is agreement that children without disabilities interact more often with others without disabilities than they do with those who have disabilities (Hestenes & Carroll, 2000), many children with disabilities have successful social relationships with their typically developing peers. Odom et al. (2002) suggested that, if we look only at the frequency of interactions for children with disabilities, we are not getting a complete view of their social relationships. They also suggested that we should broaden our perspective and use a multimethod approach. In their work, they combined observations of children’s interactions with peers, peers’ ratings of how much they like to play with others in their classrooms, and teachers’ and parents’ descriptions of friendships to develop indices of children who were socially accepted and socially rejected. Although children with disabilities were rejected more than their typically developing peers, about one-third of the children in their sample of 80 were well accepted by their peers. Those well-accepted children had a number of characteristics and abilities in common. They had effective social skills, had at least one friend, could communicate with and show affection toward others, could engage in pretend play, and were interested in interacting with their peers. Children who were rejected had a number of characteristics in common as well. These children lacked effective communication and social skills, were disruptive, came into conflict with other children, and were often physically aggressive.
Friendship in Children with Disabilities
Although the social behaviors and social interactions of young children with disabilities have been widely studied, fewer researchers have specifically examined friendship. Having at least one friend is important for children with disabilities for several reasons. According to Buysse (2002), friendship provides children with the potential for enhanced cognitive and language development as well as social and emotional benefits. Buysse (2002) noted that these benefits are “an increased capacity for understanding another’s perspective, the ability to regulate one’s emotions, and a general feeling of well-being and happiness” (p. 18).
Buysse, Goldman, and Skinner (2002) investigated the friendships of 120 children with disabilities who attended either inclusive child care programs, where a majority of children were typically developing, or specialized programs, where a majority of children had disabilities. Children had a variety of disabilities, with about 40% having severe disabilities. They found that, as a group, 28% of the children with disabilities had no friends, according to their teachers. However, children with disabilities in the inclusive child care programs were almost twice as likely to have at least one friend than the children in specialized programs. In addition, they found that, in child care settings, the children with disabilities were more likely to have a friend who was typically developing.
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