Social interaction with peers is an important component of the socialization of all young children and eventually becomes a major influence in their lives (Guralnick, 1986). Peer interaction presents children with opportunities to develop and practice communication, such as initiating and maintaining conversations through questions and comments (Nienhuys, Horsborough, & Cross, 1985; Wells, 1981 ). Research conducted with young children with hearing impairments (HI) indicates, however, that their interactions with peers of the same hearing status may be less frequent (Antia, 1982; Higginbotham & Baker, 1981) and of shorter duration (McKirdy & Blank, 1982; Vandell & George, 1981) than the peer interactions of children without HI of the same age. Researchers studying the interaction between children with and without HI in mainstream situations have also reported minimal interaction between the two groups (Arnold & Tremblay, 1979; Levy-Shift & Hoffman, 1985).
Researchers have proposed several reasons for the paucity of interaction between children with HI and their peers. Among these are the social skills of the children with HI; their lack of opportunity to be familiar with peers without HI; and, finally, the barriers that may be created by the inability to adequately communicate with peers, both with and without HI.
La Greca and Mesibov (1979) and Gresham (1982) have suggested that certain social skills are important for successful peer interaction. These skills include greeting behavior, extending and responding to invitations to join peer activities, conversation skills such as asking questions, responding to questions asked by others, and maintaining a conversation. Some evidence exists that young children with HI lack these skills. Research examining the interaction between children with HI and their mothers reveals that brief repetitive exchanges predominate, perhaps allowing these children fewer opportunities than children without HI to develop conversation skills (Henggeler & Cooper, 1983; WedellMonig & Lumley, 1980). McKirdy and Blank (1982) found that preschool dyads with HI were unable to sustain a dialogue and had difficulty responding to peer initiations. Children who lack the skills to engage their peers in social interaction may ultimately discourage further peer initiations and responses, resulting in low peer interaction rates for young children with HI (Higginbotham & Baker, 1981; Vandell & George, 1981).
Another reason for the infrequent interaction between children with and without HI may be the lack of familiarity between them. Children with HI are often placed in mainstream situations that do not promote familiarity with their peers without impairments. They may attend classrooms with 20 or more children without HI; moreover, they may be integrated with several different groups of children without HI and, consequently, do not have the opportunity to interact regularly with the same group of peers. Research conducted within these types of integrated programs indicates that the children with HI interact infrequently with their peers without HI (Antia, 1982). Lederberg, Ryan, and Robbins (1986), however, have suggested that when children both with and without HI are placed in a situation that promotes familiarity, interaction may improve. These authors found that the quality of interaction between children with HI and familiar peers without HI was similar to that of children with HI and familiar peers with HI. Apparently, familiar children had learned to adapt their communication to one another.
Several communication factors may also affect the quantity and quality of interaction among children with and without HI. Brackett and Henniges (1976) found a positive relationship between language-proficiency test scores of children with HI and their frequency of interaction with peers without HI. It is frequently assumed that the mode of communication (speech or sign language) of children with HI and the intelligibility of their speech will affect interaction with peers without HI, though few research data support this assumption. …