"Having close friends can boost a child's well-being," says Judith Wiener, a professor at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of U of T and the study's lead researcher. "However, kids with reading, writing or math disabilities often don't have well-developed conflict resolution skills so their friendships are more stormy."
She and co-author Barry Schneider, a University of Ottawa researcher, examined the close friendships of 232 children - about half with learning disabilities - from grades 4 to 8 in nine Ontario schools from 1995 to 1997. They found children with learning disabilities befriended each other more than they did children who did not have learning problems. But, where friendships between the learning- and non-learning-disabled existed, these tended to be one-sided, Wiener says, adding the youngsters with learning problems felt closer to their non-learning-disabled peers than vice-versa.
Wiener recommends parents and teachers encourage children with and without learning disabilities to form friendships with suitable peers. "You have to look for kids who are nurturing and would be compatible with a child who has a learning disability." Having a friend is extremely important, she adds. "Parents tend to focus on integrating their kid with others who don't have learning disabilities but the first step is to have friends - learning disabled or not."
The study, funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, was published in the April issue of the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology.