Academic journal article Exceptional Children

The Social Lives of Children with Emotional and Behavioral Disorders in Self-Contained Classrooms: A Descriptive Analysis

Academic journal article Exceptional Children

The Social Lives of Children with Emotional and Behavioral Disorders in Self-Contained Classrooms: A Descriptive Analysis

Article excerpt

To a very great degree, the social lives of children define their worlds and are essential to their healthy development. This may be especially true for children with emotional and behavioral disorders (E/BD) who, by definition, have significant challenges in the area of social adaptation. These challenges emphasize the need for enriched opportunities for normal social interaction and positive social experiences. This assertion can raise questions about the tradition of educating many children with E/BD in specialized and self-contained programs that may restrict opportunities for typical social interactions and relationships. However, the current literature contains little information about the social lives of children with E/BD in self-contained programs.

The social lives of children have been considered largely from the conceptual frameworks of social networks and social support, though the issue of social integration has also been considered as an important context for understanding the availability of social opportunities, particularly among individuals with social and developmental challenges (Horner, Newton, Singer, & Lund, 1991). Personal social networks include those people surrounding the child with whom the child exchanges affection or material things (Cochran & Brassard, 1979). Networks have been described and evaluated using a number of different features, including size, stability, and the qualities or functions of the network's relationships (Fischer, 1982; Heller & Swindle, 1983; Norbeck, 1982). It is agreed that social networks have important roles in social adaptation, mental health, and development; however, there is little research that addresses the functions of networks in relation to E/BD. One study showed that the social networks of typical children are significantly larger than those of same-age children with E/BD (Barone, Leone, & Trickett, 1988), but another study indicated that children with E/BD report the same number of close friends as typical peers (Schonert-Reichl, 1993).

Social networks are crucial for providing sources of social support. Social support is a construct that has been defined in multiple ways and delineated extensively into various support functions (e.g., Barrera, 1986; Lin, 1986; Wheaton, 1985). One popular definition of social support is "information that leads a person to believe that he or she is cared for and loved, is esteemed and valued, or belongs to a network of communication and mutual obligation" (Cobb, 1976, p. 300). There is substantial evidence in the research literature that the presence and perceived adequacy of various types of social support play a significant role in mental and physical health and well-being (Sarason, Sarason, & Pierce, 1990) and that social support from network members can serve as a vital buffer in handling childhood stressors (Belle, 1989; Rutter, 1979; Sandier, Miller, Short, & Wolchik, 1989; Wolchik, Ruehlman, Braver, & Sandler, 1989).

Friends become increasingly important providers of multifaceted social support as children become older, although they are consistently regarded as the best sources of companionship support throughout the childhood years (Berndt, 1989; Buhrmester & Furman, 1987). Friends influence one another both positively and negatively across a number of different dimensions including academic achievement, values and attitudes, the use of social skills, and aspirations (Berndt; Epstein, 1983). Importantly, friendship selection is not a random process. There are a number of factors within the school context that either promote or restrict opportunities for friendship selection and development. Among the most prominent factors are proximity and similarity (Epstein, 1989) and, as Epstein (1983) notes, friendship affiliations grow stronger over time with accumulated similarities and accumulated differences that distinguish children over extended periods of proximity and separation. …

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