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Peer acceptance of learning disabled children in the regular classroom.

ABSTRACT: Mainstreamed handicapped children often experience social rejection by their nonhandicapped peers. To evaluate possible approaches leading to a resolution of peer rejection, 86 low socially accepted learning disabled children in the fourth, fifth, and sixth grades were paired for 8 weeks with 86 high socially accepted, same-sexed, nonhandicapped classmates, in four groups: mutual interest group, cooperative academic task group, Hawthorne Effect/Control group, and classroom control group. Social acceptance ratings of students with learning disabilities by their nonhandicapped peers, paired in the mutual interest group, increased significantly as a function of the intervention. Those in the academic activities group and in the Hawthorne control group did not change. However, ratings of the classroom control group showed a lowered acceptance level over time.

Public Law 94-142 mandates the education of handicapped children in the least restrictive environment. For many handicapped children, especially the learning disabled child, the law has meant their integration into regular classrooms. This investigator shares the concern expressed in the professional literature that many mainstreamed children are being socially rejected or isolated by their nonhandicapped peers in the regular classroom (i.e., Erickson & Omark, 1980; Hollinger, 1987; Parish, Baker, Arheart, & Adamchak, 1980; Sabomie & Kauffman, 1985).

Previous research has shown that mainstreaming will not automatically help handicapped children become more socially accepted by their nonhandicapped peers (Coie & Dodge, 1983; Joyner, 1971; Lilly, 1971; Nelson, 1988; Newcomb & Bukowski, 1984). In fact, there is sufficient evidence to demonstrate that disabled children are more often socially rejected by their peers than are nonhandicapped children (Bryan, 1974; Bryan & Perlmutter, 1979; Bryan & Shenuan, 1980; Gottlieb & Budoff, 1973, Gottlieb, Cohen & Goldstein, 1974; Gresham & Reschly, 1988; Perlmutter & Bryan, 1984; Sabornie & Kauffman, 1985). Although the practice of mainstreaming allows for increased social contact between nonhandicapped and handicapped children, this contact by itself may not be enough to ensure the social acceptance of handicapped children. Thus, it seems important to examine instructional programs as they influence both the academic and social status of mainstreamed children rather than to rely entirely on the traditional regular classroom program as a means of overcoming the social rejection problem.

Interventions to increase social acceptance have been attempted with low-status normal children in regular classrooms (Bierman & Furnan, 1984; Bierman, Miller & Stabb, 1987; Ladd, 1981; Ladd & Mize, 1983; Middleton, Zollinger & Keene, 1986), with low-status handicapped children in special education classes (Chennault, 1967; Lilly, 1971), and with mildly handicapped children in integrated classrooms (Handlers & Austin, 1980; Hedberg, 1981; Jones, Sowell, Jones, & Butler, 1981; Kierscht & DuHoux, 1980; Sasso & Rude, 1987). The strategies employed and their rates of success have been varied. Two approaches have been used to improve the social acceptance of handicapped children. The first concentrates on teaching handicapped children specific prosocial behaviors through methods such as modeling, shaping, coaching, and cognitive problem-solving skill development (Coie & Dodge, 1983; Gresham, 1986; Hollinger, 1987; Nelson, 1988; Shores, 1987; Spivack & Shure, 1982). The second approach attempts to change the attitudes of nonhandicapped children toward handicapped children. Role playing, peer tutoring, reinforcement, and enabling

training have been used successfully to attain the desired attitudinal change Affleck, 1975; Bower, 1972; Guralnick, 1984; Hollinger, 1987; Jones et al., 1981; Nelson, 1988; Simeonsson, Monson, & Blacher-Dixon, 1979). Education, sociodrama, and intense exposure can all influence attitudes toward the handicapped (Simeonsson et al., 1979). Antonak (1981) found that the intensity of contact with a disabled person accounted for the most variance in attitudinal scores. The present investigation focused primarily on the improvement in attitudes of nonhandicapped children toward learning disabled children rather than directly teaching students with learning disabilities prosocial behaviors.

Specifically, the purpose of the study was to investigate whether the nature of the social contact between learning disabled children and their nonhandicapped peers affects the level of social acceptance of students with learning disabilities. Intervention involved forming a dyadic relationship between nonhandicapped and learning disabled children. The study focused on the nature of the contact between a high-accepted nonhandicapped child and a low-accepted learning disabled student, rather than the contact itself. The questions under examination were as follows: Does the social acceptability of children with learning disabilities increase when they are paired with nonhandicapped children and assigned a task involving the discovery of mutual interests? How does this compare to the handicapped child's level of social acceptability resulting from the dyad in which an academic task is arbitrarily assigned, or one in which no planned peer interaction is required? BACKGROUND Interventions that pair low socially accepted and high socially accepted children in common tasks have been found to be effective in increasing peer acceptance. Chennault (1967) paired the lowest and the highest accepted pupils from eight educable mentally retarded (EMR) classes in an organized cooperative activity. Significant improvement was shown in actual peer acceptance of the experimental group as compared to the control group. Lilly (1971), recognizing that the Chennault study lacked long-term follow-up measures, performed a replication of the study. Lilly used a 5-week treatment intervention in which low-accepted children worked with popular peers in making a movie. As in the Chennault study, the low-accepted children in the treatment group made immediate gains in social acceptance. Results from a 6-week follow-up, however, showed that gains were only temporary. This suggests that if social status gains are to be sustained over time it may be necessary to plan ongoing intervention. Although the Chennault results compared students within the same population (EMR), it was hypothesized that the same results would occur with dyads of handicapped and nonhandicapped students.

This investigator further proposed that greater social acceptance would develop when the two children were matched to perform a task focused on discovering similar personal interests, rather than an academic task arbitrarily assigned. To understand the principles involved in social acceptance, it is important to examine the theory and research concerning why people like one another or are attracted to each other. Byrne 1971) proposed the Attitude Similarity-Attraction theory, which states that a person will be attracted to another person who has similar attitudes. Results of this study have been thoroughly replicated and confirmed (Fujimori, 1980; Hassebrauck, 1985; McGinley, 1980; Wetzel, Schwartz, & Vasu, 1979). Further, Huang, Shi, and Wang (1984) demonstrated that the perception of psychological similarity is an important factor in choosing friends.

Bryne and Griffitt (1973) also found a positive correlation between similarity and attraction with respect to opinions, behaviors, interests, emotional states, and the evaluation of another's performance. It is theorized that the perceived behavioral similarity to the other person provides testimony that the individual is functioning in a logical and meaningful manner. At the same time, it creates a more predictable and understandable interpersonal environment for the individuals involved in the relationship (Byme, Griffitt, & Stefaniak, 1967). Thus, the relationship provides the feeling of stability for the participants as well as validation of their views.

Research focusing on similarity in personal characteristics provided additional rationale for the present investigation. Lott and Lott (1974) hypothesized that similarity in personal characteristics may signify similarity in experiences or background. Thus, shared opportunities to learn about personal commonalities can lead to increased liking. Providing opportunities for nonhandicapped children to discover and explore similarities between themselves and a handicapped peer could greatly enhance the development of a friendship despite their differences. METHOD Purpose The purpose of the present study was to investigate whether the nature of the social contact between learning disabled (LD) children and their nonhandicapped peers affects the level of social acceptance of the LD children. The effects of four approaches designed to enhance the social acceptability of LD children in the regular classroom were examined.

Specifically, the following hypotheses were tested. I . In the dyads focusing on the discovery and

discussion of mutual interests, the social

acceptability of the LD child would improve

significantly. 2. In the dyads participating in an arbitrarily

assigned, motivating academic activity, the

LD child's social acceptability would increase,

but not to the level produced by

participation in the mutual interest activity. 3. In the Hawthorne Effect control dyads, the

existing low-acceptance level would not

change. 4. Children left in their regular classroom

without any planned intervention would not

increase their social acceptability. Subjects Fourth, fifth, and sixth graders from 44 regular classrooms (N = 172) were included in the sample. Low socially accepted LD students were paired with same-sex high socially accepted nonhandicapped classmates to form 86 dyads. Children were assigned to the low socially accepted LD group if their mean ranking on the Friendship Rating Instrument (FRI) was in the bottom half of their class. High socially accepted nonhandicapped children were selected if their mean scores on the FRI were in the upper half of the class. Scores of participants were based on pretest ratings by all same-sex students in their classroom.

The children came from six racially and ethnically mixed elementary schools, representing low to middle socioeconomic status (SES) populations, located in a large metropolitan area. The LD students were all classified as learning handicapped by California criteria and were receiving up to 3 hours per day of special education instruction. Instruments The FRI is a sociometric assessment device consisting of a list of names of all same-sex classmates. Students rated each other on the following questions: 1. How much do you like to play with this

person? 2. How much do you like to work with this

person? The ratings were on a scale of I to 6, where a rating of I indicates "never" and a rating of 6 indicates "always." Mean scores were calculated for both questions. These two questions were used because of their common use and consistent reliability in rating children's peer acceptance (Oden & Asher, 1975). Peer acceptance in the present study was defined as positive recognition by one's peer. Using these same two questions, Oden, Asher, and Hymel (1975) found a high correlation between the items, .80 to .97, p < .01. in each dyad, or whether more attention (Hawthorne group) or no treatment classroom control) would affect social acceptability.

A split-plot analysis of variance 2 x 4 x 3 (Sex x Group x Time) was run to assess the change in partners' ratings of each other.

The results are presented in Table 1. Significant differences were found between the LD and nonhandicapped students' acceptance ratings of their partners, F = 19.46, df = 11150, p < .001. LD students rated their nonhandicapped partners higher than the nonhandicapped students rated their LD partners (mean acceptance rating of 4.16 vs. 3.44).

The main effect for Groups C1, C2, C3, and C4 was highly significant, F = 8.13, df = 3/150, p < .001. The mean scores for repeated measures were C, = 4.24, C2 = 4.1 1, C3 = 3.59, and C4 = 3.24. To identify the source of differences among groups, the NewmanKeuls Multiple Comparison Test was conducted. It was found that children in the experimental groups C] and C2) rated each other significantly higher than did those in the control groups (C3 and C4) - In addition, there was a significant Sex x Group interaction, F = 4.56, df = 3/150, p < .01, which suggests that differences in ratings between conditions varied as a function of sex. See Table 2 for means and Figure I for the graphic display of these data. Comparisons indicated that females who were paired for mutual interest activities (C1) tended to rate each other higher than did females paired for academic activities C2), and higher than did females not paired at all in the classroom C4)However, partner ratings by females paired to discover mutual interests did not differ significantly from ratings by females in the Hawthorne group C3)- On the other hand, partner ratings of males who participated in the mutual interest activity did not differ from the ratings of males paired to work on an academic task. Nevertheless, males in the paired groups C1 and C2) rated each other higher (though not significantly higher) than nonpaired males (C3 and C4) - To examine the stability of change resulting from the intervention, a trend analysis of partner ratings by groups over the three assessment periods (pretest, posttest, and followup) was conducted. A significant interaction between quadratic components for time and condition was found, F = 9.30, df = 6/300, p < .001 (See Figure 2). A quadratic function characterizes partner ratings in C, with a sharp rise in scores as a function of the intervention, and a slight nonsignificant decrease in scores 6 weeks after the intervention.

Partner ratings in C2 were linear, indicating no change between pretest, posttest, and follow-up. Group C2 Partner ratings were significantly lower than partner ratings in Group C, at the posttest and follow-up administrations. The trend for Group C3 was parallel to the trend in Group C2 '-e-, no change), but lower overall. For GrouP C4, acceptance ratings decreased significantly over time. SUMMARY OF FINDINGS The major finding of the study was that the nonhandicapped students rated their LD partners lower than the LD students rated them.

Pairing for mutual interest discovery C1) and for academic activities (C2) resulted in better partner acceptance than either control condition (C3 and C4), in which there were no planned peer interactions. Females paired for mutual interest were more accepting of one another than were females paired for academic activities. On the other hand, as long as male subjects were paired, the nature of the contact did not affect partner ratings.

Changes in partner acceptance over the three time periods (pretest, posttest, and 6-week follow-up) were found to differ across conditions. Partner ratings of students paired for mutual interest (C1) increased significantly as a function of the intervention. LD students continued to maintain high ratings of their partners 6 weeks after the intervention followup), whereas ratings by nonhandicapped subjects were slightly (nonsignificantly) lowered. Partner ratings by children paired in academic activities (C2) and those in the Hawthorne Effect control group (C3) did not change over the three test administration times. Ratings by subjects left in the classroom without any planned peer interaction (C4) decreased further at each of the assessments. DISCUSSION Nonhandicapped and LD students in the mutual interest dyads were the only partners who increased their ratings of one another after the intervention. Students paired to participate in academic activities and those in the Hawthorne Effect control group gave similar ratings immediately following, the intervention and at 6-week follow-up, as they did at the onset of the study. Control students who received no planned peer contact and were not taken out of their classrooms to participate in the study lowered their social acceptance ratings.

One explanation for the increase in partner ratings for the mutual interest group may be that nonhandicapped children often reject their LD peers (Bryan, 1975; Erickson & Omark, 1980; Gottlieb & Budoff, 1973; Hollinger, 1987; Sabomie & Kauffman, 1985) and thus never make the effort to really get to know mainstreamed children. Rejection may stem from nonhandicapped children's limited perception of the LD children. Nonhandicapped classmates may perceive LD children as being different from them; and as a direct consequence of this perception, the nonhandicapped children never take the initiative to discover that LD children have interests, opinions, behaviors, and emotional states similar to their own. The Attitude Similarity-Attraction theory (Byme, 1971) stresses the importance of such a knowledge base in the development of a positive relationship between two individuals.

Although the study's findings supported the mutual interest hypothesis, they did not verify the second hypothesis concerning Group C2- It was hypothesized that Group C2 partners, who worked on academic tasks, would increase their ratings of one another. This expectation was based on findings of previous studies using retarded subjects (Chennault, 1967; Lilly, 1971). The discrepancy in findings may be due to the different population samples studied.

Findings for partner ratings in the Hawthorne Effect control group supported the third hypothesis. It was expected and confirmed that the Hawthorne control subjects' ratings would remain the same or improve slightly because of the extra attention they received by participating in the study. The classroom control students C4), on the other hand, did not receive any planned peer interaction, nor did they receive any extra attention. Children in the classroom control group did appear to like each other minimally at the onset, but as the school year continued they liked each other less.

The discrepancy found between the Hawthorne Effect control group ratings (C3) and the classroom control group ratings (C4) leads to two important educational implications. First, it seems imperative that teachers perform some type of intervention in order for mainstreamed LD children to successfully be integrated socially into the regular classroom. Otherwise, teachers may anticipate a drop in children's acceptance as the year progresses Bierman et al., 1987), as in group C4 - The second important educational implication stems from the results showing that the Hawthorne Effect control group and the academic activity partners did not differ significantly in peer acceptance ratings: that is, there was a maintenance of low acceptance. Thus, a teacher's provision of extra attention to nonaccepted children, or to accepted children, may in itself be a useful method of intervention. However, the results of this study imply that attention by itself will serve to maintain or prevent a decrease in status, but will not increase status.

Possibly, various naturalistic or experimental factors may have affected the results in the control Group C4- The decrease in acceptance of children who remained within the class and received no intervention may result from events during the school year in which handicapped children may be seen in a negative light. Often the LD student's academic performance and, in many cases, behavioral problems become more visible to their peers as the year progresses. Bierman et al. (1987) substantiated this inference, concluding that intervention would have been necessary in their study to prevent the significant decline in positive interactions over the school year experienced by their control group. Although there is a definite trend difference for the four types of conditions in which subjects participated, these trends are general in nature and may yield different results for different populations or individuals.

Indeed, in this study, sex and population (i.e., LD and nonhandicapped) rating differences were identified. Females increased their ratings of their partners when they were paired on a mutual interest task as opposed to working on an academic task. This finding would suggest that, for optimal results, females should work together on a task to discover mutual interests but not necessarily on an academic task. On the other hand, the improved ratings for males did not differ significantly based on the nature of the task; thus, pairing for both activities would seem to be beneficial. RECOMMENDATIONS The results of this study may have significance for any children who are poorly accepted by their peers, not just handicapped children. This conjecture needs to be systematically researched. Further research might use similar interventions to change peer attitudes toward racially integrated classmates who are not socially accepted by their peers.
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Author:Fox, C. Lynn
Publication:Exceptional Children
Date:Sep 1, 1989
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