Delayed Children's Social Interactions Focus for Intervention

By Brown, Lorraine J.; Crossley, Stella A. | Australian Journal of Early Childhood, December 2000 | Go to article overview

Delayed Children's Social Interactions Focus for Intervention


Brown, Lorraine J., Crossley, Stella A., Australian Journal of Early Childhood


Peer social interaction is seen as uniquely important, differing from adult/child relations and possibly serving different functions (Guralnick, 1997). This is particularly the case from four years of age, where most children in Western society first learn to relate to other children of their age in a more structured setting. Relations between children are by nature egalitarian, lacking the directive element present in the majority of parent and child relations. It is this basis of equality which allows for the learning of the give-andtake element innate to all social interactions (Guralnick, 1990). Evidence supporting the benefit of peer interactions is provided by the problems children experience if they fail to develop effective peer relations. Given that deficits in social interaction skills have been linked to developmental delay (Strain & Shores, 1977), juvenile delinquency (Roff, Sells & Golden, 1972) and adult mental health (Trembay, Strain, Henrickson & Shores, 1981), it is a major developmental issue requiring further research.

Developmentally delayed (DD) children consist of both those with a disability (such as Down Syndrome) of which developmental delay is one element, and of those who experience a global delay of unknown aetiology. Although the current study focuses on the later group, reference will be made to the literature on children with disabilities, because of the commonalties regarding developmental delay.

DD children in particular are at risk of experiencing difficulties in establishing peer relations. It is difficult to discern how much of this is due to their delay per se or the situations that the delay creates for them. Parents of children with disabilities have been found to be more directive of their child than are parents of similar-aged children who are not delayed (Lieberman, Padan-Belkin & Harel, 1995). Furthermore, DD children often experience a deficit in language, which also influences the quality of the social interactions they experience. Language delayed children have been found to talk approximately half as much as their ND peers and to be approximately half as responsive to teachers' and peers' initiations of social interactions (Warren & Rogers-Warren, 1982). This deficit in language affects both the social and cognitive aspects of children's play. The inability to engage in dialogue during play severely undermines the development of cooperative group play. In essence, DD children are caught in the awkward position of being unable to advance their social interaction skills because of problems with language, while at the same time unable to advance their language abilities because of difficulties with social relations. Most likely, language skills need to be addressed first, but this dilemma highlights DD children's need for effective peer social interaction to extend their abilities and put those skills they have acquired into practice.

Children are usually deemed as delayed on the basis of performances on psychometric tests. However, there are several reasons these tests should not be used as the sole basis of assessment. First, children's behaviour is inherently unstable from 0-6 years, therefore interpretation of test scores needs to be made in cognisance of the day-to-day fluctuations in children's behaviour (Sattler, 1992). This variation is particularly pronounced in children with special needs (Kennedy, Sheridan, Radlinski & Beeghly, 1991). Second, the use of age equivalents for certain characteristics is problematic, as it often leads to generalisations about overall functioning. For example, a five-year-old Down Syndrome child may be assessed to have the expressive language ability of a two-year-old. This can lead to the assumption that the five-year-old child is similar to a two-year-old child in all areas of their functioning, abilities, and experience, which of course is not the case (Sattler, 1992). Finally, these global measures of assessment often fail to specify the exact nature of the child's delay and neglect to assess some relevant areas, such as peer social interactions (Guralnick, 1990). …

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