Speaking, Reading, and Writing in Children with Language Learning Disabilities: New Paradigms in Research and Practice

By Katharine G. Butler; Elaine R. Silliman | Go to book overview

10
“Hanging with Friends”:
Making Sense of Research on
Peer Discourse in Children With
Language and Learning Disabilities
Mavis L. Donahue
University of Illinois at Chicago

Zachary is a 9-year-old with significant language and learning disabilities who is fully included in a third grade classroom. He is withdrawn and rarely makes eye contact with peers. When he occasionally attempts to start a conversation, articulation problems make him difficult to understand. At the beginning of the year, he is mostly ignored by typical peers. One day these students discover that Zachary can make surprisingly realistic animal sounds. Whenever there is a lull in the classroom activity or on the playground, a child often requests “Zachary, do your bear (monkey, parrot …)!” When other adults visit the classroom, his classmates invite them to “Listen to what Zachary can do!” Zachary enjoys the attention and eagerly complies. The general education teacher is tolerant of these episodes, but the learning disabilities teacher and speech—language pathologist are concerned that encouraging this age-inappropriate behavior may not be helpful for Zachary's social and language development. In their view, Zachary is becoming the “class mascot, ” and this patronizing behavior marks him as “weird” and “different. ”

On the other hand, for the first time, Zachary has a “ticket” for entry into social interactions with typical peers. Occasionally the “making animal sounds” game is extended to making rude noises that most teachers would censor, but that Zachary and the other boys find hilarious. Yet he also has the opportunity to model more positive social behavior. As the year goes by, he becomes part of a network of three or four boys who hang out with him on the playground, at lunch, and in cooperative groups. When his mother asks Zachary about the events of his school day, he tells her “I hanged with my friends. ” His academic skills show significant gains. His friends cheer when Zachary wins the classroom award for “Most Improvement” at the end of the year.

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