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[en] Following the UN Convention on the rights of people with disabilities a drive towards inclusive education can be observed. Inclusive education not only aims to reduce educational inequalities but also promotes social participation. Although social participation partly depends on the opportunity of social interaction with peers (Kirpalani et al., 2000), other factors such as social competence and peer acceptance are important too (e.g. Schwab et al., 2013). Children with special needs are often found to be socially excluded by peers (Garrote & Dessemontet, 2015) and have fewer friends than their typically developing peers (e.g. Eriksson et al., 2007). Research has also indicated that the incidence of social maladjustment problems in children with disabilities is at least twice of that for typically developing children (Goodman & Graham, 1996; Wallander et al., 1989). Hence children with disabilities may be particularly vulnerable in regards to their peer relationships and social participation.
Method: Data were collected for a clinical sample of 87 children (aged 6-18 years) with disabilities (i.e. hydrocephalus with or without spina bifida) and 57 typical developing children. Children or parents completed measures on social acceptance (the Self-Perception Profile, Harter, 1985; Harter & Pike, 1984), peer problems and prosocial behaviour (SDQ; Goodman, 1997, 1999), friendship (Berndt et al., 1986) and perceived quality of life (Graham, Stevenson, & Flynn, 1997).
Results: Parent and child ratings of social acceptance and peer problems indicated children with disabilities felt less accepted and experienced more peer problems than typically developing children. No differences in prosocial behaviour were found. Although parents of children with disabilities rated the quality of life regarding friendships lower than parents of typically developing children, no differences in child ratings were found. Children with disabilities rated their friendships as less positive compared to typically developing children. Variance in the perceived quality of life could be explained by peer problems and friendship ratings but not social acceptance or peer problems.
Conclusion: Friendship and peer relationships emerged as an area of specific difficulty for children with disabilities. These problems were reflected in reports of lower social acceptance, more peer problems and less positive friendship ratings. Child rated quality of life in the domain of friendship was predicted by peer problems and quality of friendship but not social acceptance. Although parents and children were generally in agreement, this study demonstrates the importance of collecting data from different sources, including the children with disabilities themselves.