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‘Being born or acquiring an impairment has an impact on the child’s socialization process’. Discuss this statement and state whether you agree with it or not. Make reference to literature and to the lecture debates. Draw from your professional experience.
The first few years of life are important in developing physically, psychologically and also in forming relationships, initially with the primary caregivers (Diem-Wille, 2011). Socialization is “the process by which individuals acquire the knowledge, skills and character traits that enable them to participate as effective members of groups and societies” (Berns, 2013, p.6). The process of socialisation during childhood years is a crucial aspect in life which enables an individual to fulfil his goals, needs and wishes throughout his lifetime. Factors that affect the socialisation process in children, namely family, school, peers and the disabling condition will be discussed.
According to Talcott Parsons, Primary Socialization occurs when a child is developing personality characteristics, beliefs and values in relation to their upbringing. This initially occurs at home, thus being based on beliefs of family members. This process develops as a child grows and starts to learn what is acceptable and what is not acceptable (Owens, 2010). The family plays a crucial role in whether having an impairment, both congenital or acquired, impacts the child’s socialization process. This includes the values that they pass to their children as well as the socio-economic factors. In a study conducted to research the quality of mother and child interactions between preterm- and term-born children at age 5, and whether this interaction is effected by socio-demographic characteristics and child disability (Potharst, Schuengel, Last, van Wassenaer, Kok, & Houtzager, 2012), it was found that mothers of pre-term children were more intrusive into their child’s autonomy resulting in decreased socialization. This relationship was also found to be poor with a child with a disability, especially if the mother has a low education background. Many times parents of children with disability are more over-protective of their children, which can result in these children finding it more difficult to interact with others and also impeding that child to fully developing his or her potential. Some parents of children with disability have discussed with me, that there were times that their children were invited to peer’s birthday parties, and have not taken their son to it. A particular parent questioned what will his son gain by going to this party and still not participate in the games since he uses a wheelchair. My reasoning with this father was that his son might have been included in different games, as they can be adapted or he can be helped to participate by another friend. I believe that it is not just the participating in a game that is the most important aspect of attending such social events, but the interaction with his peers, the being part of a group of friends, to continue strengthen the child’s socialisation process. When adults control their disabled children, they are limiting them in developing appropriate social skills and self-confidence. With this comes a lack of experience of what childhood is, which might lead to being more dependent in adulthood. This supports the medical model of disability which believes in the dependency of individuals. This however can also be the opposite, where parents still help their disabled children to achieve and hence giving the opportunity for their children to become independent adults (Shah, Arnold, & Travers, 2004).
In Rana (2011) it is cited that it is the parents’ duty to provide care, protection and proper upbringing of their children. “Such a belief is predicated on age-long traditions and norms of societies that children must be properly socialized at home and at school to prevent them from engaging in antisocial or improper behavior” (p.44). I believe that under any circumstance, proper family upbringing is of major importance when discussing a child’s socialisation process. Hence this makes no difference as to being born or acquiring the impairment later in childhood. In fact, a Maltese 16 year old adolescent with cerebral palsy has now acquired good socialization skills, thanks to his family in providing appropriate upbringing. Despite being dependent in nearly all aspects of his daily life, having received appropriate education and nurturing, he has some good friendships, is able to understand the norms of society and participate within his community to the best of his abilities.
Schools and Peers
Children with disabilities in schools are more at risk of being bullying and of being socially excluded. They are often seen as being different and with less confidence. Having an accepting social environment will promote healthier friendships and this is important in developing appropriate social skills (Lindsay & McPherson, 2012). In the Conventions of the Rights of the Child (United Nations, 1989), it is stated that
Parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child.
In fact, a group of children with cerebral palsy were interviewed to understand their views on how to minimize social exclusion. A point they brought up is that they feel that their classmates should be informed about their condition, and that there is nothing wrong with being different, but one should focus on their abilities (Lindsay & McPherson, 2012). Through this learning of knowledge non-disabled peers will understand how a communication book is used for example. During my experience at a special school in Belgium, which mainly caters for children with physical disabilities, having some of its classes that follow mainstream education, it was so refreshing to see social bonds between each kid in class. It did not matter to them whether someone uses a wheelchair or a walking aid, they helped propel each other or carry things for each other. They even helped each other play games, like helping a kid with limited hand function, to still throw a small sized ball at a target, and hence participate in the same activities. The school system, staff, parents and hence the children all share the idea that everyone should be given the opportunity to participate according to their capabilities. Social Identity Development Theory (SIDT) is based on research that indicates that childhood is identified by children as being part of social groups, and hence developing their social interaction. It states that the way children display prejudice is distinctive to each social situation rather than to chronological or cognitive age. Schools also form a secondary role in a child’s socialization process, where children are taught how to behave in society. In a study by Nesdale and Lawson (2011), it was found that school norms and beliefs leave a significant impact on young children’s group attitudes. This leads to imply that children understand the importance of listening and responding appropriately to adults in authority, hence in understanding attitudes and behaviours considered as appropriate or inappropriate (Nesdale & Lawson, 2011). I believe that in Malta schools should also instil in their students the idea that we should focus on each other’s abilities, as this will help to increase the socialisation skills of children with disabilities. When the teachers and learning support assistants help to involve all the children in helping each other out in tasks that one might encounter a difficulty in, enhances such peer bonds. From school visits that I have carried out, one notices differences in the school attitudes and how peers relate to individuals with disabilities. This was easily be observed from a simple aspect like the class layout; when the disabled child was on a separate table at the back of the class, he was easily forgotten and excluded, whereas when the child was integrated with his peers, it led to him being included during break times, social events etc. It has also been found that children with cerebral palsy attending a mainstream school in Canada were different from their peers in the number of friendships and social isolation behaviours amongst others (Nadeau & Tessier, 2006). Inclusion in mainstream education does not necessary mean that children with disabilities are socially included (Meyer 2001), thus it is important that good education is given to children both from school and from home and that these children with disabilities are supported and given opportunities to socialise and relate to their classmates.
The condition or impairment itself can affect a child’s socialization process. It is known that children and young adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) report feelings of loneliness or the need to have more meaningful friendships, as many times they lack the social competence to feel at ease with typical peers. Therapy interventions should include involving these individuals in activities that are around their preferred interests, to help develop typical peer relationships. This can be linked to a child with ASD, aged 3 and a half, to whom I offer Occupational Therapy intervention, who is fascinated by insects. His socialising with his class mates and interacting in simple crafts activities was limited. It was suggested that pictures of butterflies or caterpillars are included within the classroom setting, and to involve such subjects during crafts activities. This child is now seen to participate and interact more with peers, as lessons and tasks are more about things he can relate to. A study by Koegel, Kim, Koegel and Schwartzman (2013) also showed these findings, were adolescents who were engaged in activities that related to their interests, were able to socialize with typical peers more appropriately following intervention. Such activities included a Basketball club, Cooking Club and also Computer Graphics club.
Intellectual disability is another impairment that may hinder a child’s socialization process. In a study conducted by Baurain, Nader-Grosbois and Dionne (2013), a group of pre-schoolers with intellectual disability and other typical developing children were studied to understand the socio-emotional regulation and also their adjustment to society. The latter includes relationships and development of social skills. The teacher’s perspective was taken using two tests. It resulted that children with intellectual disability did not differ in their social adjustment in relation to typically developing children. However difficulty was found when intellectually disabled individuals had to adopt others’ perspective in social relations. This was stated to be due to some difficulties in social behaviour or behavioural disorders. The level of the intellectual disability is of course an important aspect when discussing whether being born with this disability impacts socialization. This can be linked with two clients (both 7 year old) I provide therapy too. Their families are friends, and thus children also spend some time together. One of them is intellectually disabled due to a congenital condition (which is not yet known) which is quite severe. In fact it is difficult for this child to understand society’s norms and thus has difficulty to participate adequately in society, as she just screams in public and just throws everything to the ground, for no particular reason. On the other hand, the other child with a mild intellectual disability is able to participate well in his society, being able to understand what is acceptable in the different contexts that he is exposed to (no particular behaviours observed). Both kids have so far been brought up in approximately the same family values and hence primary socialization; however their impairment severity level has an influence on their socialization process.
Having a physical disability, both born or acquired, will have an effect on the child participation at school. This does not only include physical limitations that the child might encounter on a daily basis. Child/individual characteristics also play an important role. Having the motivation, will and also the knowledge to be able to perform in the context and appropriate social skills, most often compensates the physical limitations (Egilson & Traustadotti, 2009). All these are other important factors in line with socialization process. Acquiring the disability at a particular age, the child might have a stronger will or motivation to strive to achieve the most their abilities, as they know life prior to the disability. On the other hand, this can also be the case of a child with a born impairment, who would still have high motivation to achieve and develop good socialization.
Taking a step further and looking at whether born or acquired disability in relation to the socialisation process and how it will eventually be transferred to adult life Michelsen, Uldall, Hansen, and Madsen (2006) conducted a study of adults with cerebral palsy, compared to adults without a disability to identify the level of social integration and independence. Being born with a disability impacted the socialization process; however 68% of those studied where living independently with 28% of them cohabiting. However when compared to the non-disabled individuals, this resulted to only half the amount to be socially integrated. This difference can be due to cognitive difficulties, which ultimately does effect how much one can fully integrate with society at any age throughout the course of the lifetime. Thus it is important that all aspects that lead to acquiring good socialisation skills are provided to children from a very young age, to help them develop and reach their full social potential by adulthood.
I believe that the way our society is built with its norms, values and thoughts with regards to impairments and disabilities, does effect children’s socialisation process. Being born or acquiring the impairment does have an effect; however the other constructs and points mentioned above define this impact further. Thus the socialisation process of a child is acquired when a mixture of the entire above are provided within a child’s life. It is important that children are given the right opportunities to experience, to be empowered and to engage with the rest of their community to develop socialisation to the fullest.
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