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Adolescents with social disabilities and their peers: Intervention, identity, and judgments about exclusion


The first study in this series combines quantitative and qualitative methodologies to explore a social group intervention designed to promote engagement between teenagers with social disabilities and their typically developing peers. 15 adolescents with autism spectrum or related social disorders and 24 typically developing peers were recruited from a summer sports camp where participants were enrolled in a counselor training program. Quantitative analysis involved two constructs measured on a five point scale; the degree of affective engagement between participants and the `flow' of interaction. Measurement contexts in the treatment phase included adult facilitated and un-facilitated interactions within the social group. Analysis showed that participants with social difficulties made statistically significant gains after a treatment condition as compared to a control condition in the facilitated measurement context along both constructs. Video clips of the social group assessment contexts were analyzed again using conversation analysis methodology. The analysis highlighted facilitation strategies that appeared to be important factors in sustaining interaction. The facilitator ensured that all participants had a relevant role in the activity, filled in gaps to maintain a smoothly flowing interaction, allowed peer culture to emerge by loosening traditional rules, adapted her interaction style to suit the target participant's preferred mode of interaction, and validated participant contributions. The results of this study will deepen current knowledge of social interaction among teens who experience social difficulty and their peers, as well as offer practical guidelines for promoting interaction and engagement in this population.

Using discourse analytic methodology, the second study examines video data collected during the social group intervention. The analysis focuses on the interactive means by which the participants construct the identity of the group member with autism, referred to as Randal.. The concepts of emergence, positionality, indexicality, relationality, and partialness are used as a framework for understanding the characteristics of Randal's identity as well as the social processes that contribute to its formation. Results revealed that characteristics commonly associated with autism and often conceived of as grounds for isolation, such as social aloofness, intense focus on particular activities, and unusual skills, were transformed into a more positive social identity within the intervention context.

The final study uses a clinical interview methodology situated within the domain theory approach to moral development to determine how adolescents make judgments about excluding peers with social disabilities. 38 participants between the ages of 13 and 18 were asked to evaluate and provide reasons for their judgments for four contexts; a classroom lab group, a casual soccer practice, a home, and a general education classroom. Results showed that participants were more likely to judge that exclusion from the soccer and classroom settings was unacceptable than from the lab group and home settings. Analysis of the reasoning scheme that participants employed when making these judgments showed that multiple considerations, such as group functioning in the lab group context and personal choice in the home context, were pitted against moral concerns of welfare and fairness. There were no differences found for gender or age group in either judgments or reasoning processes. This study complements the existing body of research on moral judgments, and offers educators valuable insight into how typically developing peers think about acts of exclusion involving peers with social disabilities.

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