Comparing Acceptance and Rejection in the Classroom Interaction of Students who Stutter and Their Peers: A Social Network Analysis

Background

At school there is constant interaction among students; friendships are formed, leading to social acceptance or rejection. Social interaction and close relationships have important implications for both physical and mental health. However, what if someone’s social interaction is unrewarding due to stuttering? Recent work has reported adverse effects of students’ stuttering on their social and emotional functioning at school. Yet, few studies have provided an in-depth examination of classroom interaction of students who stutter (SWS). The current study uses a network perspective to compare acceptance and rejection in the classroom interaction between SWS and their peers in secondary education.

Method

Social Network Analysis (SNA) (Borgatti, Everett & Johnson, 2013; Carrington, Scott & Wasserman, 2005; Scott, 2013) relies on sociometric data, and offers a variety of measures that include information about direct (e.g., who did you nominate and who nominated you?) and indirect nominations (e.g., who nominated your friends?) of all classmates. SNA, therefore, offers detailed insight into each student’s position in the classroom and into the overall structure of classroom interaction. Our sample comprised 22 SWS and 403 non-stuttering peers (22 classes) of secondary education in Flanders (Belgium), ranging from 11 to 18 years old. Students’ nominations regarding three acceptance (… is my friend; I like …; I can count on …) and three rejection criteria (… isn’t my friend; I don’t like …; I cannot count on …) were combined. Centrality (degree, closeness and betweeness) and reciprocity (dyadic reciprocity and clique size) measures were calculated and compared between the SWS and their non-stuttering peers.

Results

We found few significant differences: SWS and their peers were distributed similarly across positive and negative status groups. Both considered and were considered by, on average, six or seven classmates as ‘a friend’, who they liked and could count on, and nominated or were nominated by one or two classmates as ‘no friend’, somebody who they disliked and could not count on. On average, SWS and their classmates also did not differ in terms of structural position in the class group (degree, closeness and betweenness), reciprocated rejection, and clique size. However, SWS do tend to be slightly more stringent or more careful in nominating peers, which led to fewer reciprocated friendships.

Conclusion

Although past studies concluded that SWS are often less popular or at increased risk of being rejected and bullied (e.g. Blood & Blood, 2004; Blood et al., 2011; Davis et al., 2002), our results suggest that SWS are quite accepted by peers in secondary education in Flanders. Positive peer relationships could function as a buffer and protect SWS in stressful situations and during negative experiences at school. Moreover, the support of friends could be a significant factor protecting them from being teased. In sum, positive peer interaction can create a supportive and encouraging climate for SWS to deal with stuttering related challenges.

Contact: Stefanie.adriaensens@uantwerpen.be

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