WRITER: ALISSA SWANGO
CONTACT: BECKY SOGLIN
2130 Medical Laboratories
Iowa City IA 52242
(319) 335-6660; fax (319) 335-9917
Release: July 21, 1999
UI study examines how children perceive their peers
with physical disabilities
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Although children today are encouraged
to look beyond physical differences, children from many cultures respond to
obvious differences among their peers, according to University of Iowa Health
Care researchers' findings in a recently published article.
Dennis C. Harper, Ph.D., UI professor of pediatrics
and rehabilitation studies, led a study examining how non-disabled children
react to children with disabilities. Beginning in 1985, Harper and his colleagues
studied 400 children, ages 10 to 18, in the United States, mainly from the
Midwest. The study was extended outside the U.S. to five non-Western countries
including Nepal, the Maori in New Zealand, the Philippines, the Maya in the
Yucatan, and Antigua. The researchers examined 1,500 children overall through
a series of studies exploring each child's social preference for particular
disabilities in his or her country.
Harper's team focused on why children made certain
social selections and what they thought about their peers who have disabilities.
"I wanted to explore the context of the situation,"
Harper said. "These contexts were designed to reflect real-life situations
as much as possible."
Harper conducted picture-based interviews to get specific
reactions and expressed attitudes from non-disabled children towards those
with disabilities. The children selected whom they would pick to play ball
with or to go to a show. Their responses varied depending on the scenario
and the perceived abilities of the disabled child in the illustration.
Harper found that what is viewed as a disability or
physical difference in one culture can be most admired in another. The findings
also showed that children in the United States chose obesity to be the least
accepted characteristic, whereas it was the most accepted condition in rural
non-Western countries. These results may be based on factors such as one's
economic livelihood, physical limitations and cultural stereotypes. As children
moved from rural areas to more urban areas, Western stereotypes were adopted
and appearance became more important than a person's functional abilities.
Harper's research reflects human nature.
"Many people with visible differences have difficulties
with social interaction. People need to see beyond looks," he said.
He believes that in order for people to develop positive
views towards disabled individuals, social interaction needs to be better
attempted by both disabled and non-disabled children. The findings were published
in the May issue of Rehabilitation Psychology.
Harper and his colleagues are currently studying how
disabled children view themselves and others.
"Because it is common for disabled children to think
negatively about themselves or avoid their differences," Harper said, "this
new study focuses on how to teach disabled children to speak about their impairments
and think positively about their social differences. Disability is part of
the human condition."