Publication Details

Webster, A. A. & Carter, M. (2010). Observations of relationships between children with developmental disabilities and peers in inclusive settings. Special Education Perspectives, 19 (2), 7-23.


The importance of social versus functional integration for children with developmental disabilities has been widely discussed in the literature. Although a great deal of research has been conducted to describe the features of relationships and friendships between typical preschool and primary school children, very little research has attempted to apply the same quantitative process to defining the relationships that children with developmental disabilities develop with their peers in inclusive settings. This article discusses the results of research conducted in Alice Springs, Australia, in which playground observations were used to systematically describe the social relationships of 25 children with developmental disabilities with 74 peers in area preschool and primary schools. For each target child, teachers and target children identified three friends or children with whom they interacted most frequently. Observations were conducted over three sessions during recess or lunch times to evaluate the occurrence of key behaviours and interactions most commonly associated with characteristics of relationships and friendships between typically developing children. Results were then examined and compared to interview results to describe the relationships. Analysis indicates that some observations were effective in corroborating interview results for behaviours associated with Companionship and a Regular Friend relationship. In addition most target children were observed to engage in at least some socially appropriate behaviours when interacting with peers. Many target children, however, engaged in social interactions with a large number of peers and did not achieve more intimate levels of interaction such as would be characteristic of a friend or best friend. Although observations were very useful in providing information about the interactions between children and the acceptance of children in play situations, behaviours exhibited were not frequent enough to make definitive judgments about the nature and types of the relationships between children with disabilities and peers.