Resilience has been defined as a process of adaption when individuals encounter adversity and may be conceptualised both in terms of the child’s capacity to cope and by the capacity of those in the child’s environment to facilitate them to cope in appropriate ways (Ungar, 2015). There is evidence to suggest that children with speech and language disorders may encounter adversity in their lives. For example, such children may experience difficulties with academic performance, making friends, and they may also experience social exclusion (Feeney, Desha, Ziviani, and Nicholson, 2012; Roulstone and Lindsay, 2012). However, little is known about ways in which children negotiate negative experiences. The aim of this study was to understand the experiences of children with speech and language disorders from their own perspectives, focussing on risks to their well-being and protective strategies which may promote resilience.
Eleven nine- to twelve-year-old children with speech and language disorders were recruited using purposeful sampling. All were receiving additional educational supports. Narrative inquiry was used to generate data about their everyday experiences. Five to six interviews were carried out with each child across a range of settings with 59 interviews conducted in total. The data were analysed using analytical tools from narrative inquiry to identify themes in relation to potential risk factors to well-being and protective strategies.
The themes which were identified as potential risk factors in relation to well-being were: negative feelings associated with communication impairment and disability (including undesired identities), peer relationship difficulties, concern about academic achievement, and restrictions to independence. The themes which were identified as protective strategies included: positive identities, positive relationships, agency, and hope. Some of these strategies were child-related. For example, children were active agents and used problem-solving skills to overcome communication breakdown. Other strategies were related to the child’s social network whereby constructs such as identity, hope, and independence were co-constructed, in positive and negative ways, with others. In relation to identity, children actively constructed their multiple identities and were affirmed when their desired identities (such as being competent, well-behaved, socially attractive) were affirmed
by others. However, some were upset when their desired identities were challenged by others and when they were assigned labels that they considered undesirable (such as sad or special). Likewise, some children had a desire to be independent but were frustrated when this wish for independence was restricted by others.
This study highlights the importance of listening to children’s perspectives and the important roles that others in the child’s social network play in the co-construction of identities, independence, and hope. Well-being and resilience need to be conceptualised within an ecological framework so that protective strategies at both individual and social level can be strengthened to mitigate negative experiences.
For further information on this research, see Lyons, R. and Roulstone, S. (2016). Labels, identity and narratives in children with primary speech and language impairments. International Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 1-16