For some, socialization, and the formation of both strong and weak ties with others seem to come around as a natural part of the life course and provide them with a sense of belonging. By having to nurture relations with family, peers and other role models in their immediate social surroundings, children may gain access to positive experiences, memories and social support tying them to the social fabric of their local context. These experiences may provide them with a sense of security in their everyday life, a positive outlook on life chances and their future and positive coping strategies when faced with adversity.
Considering all the benefits that “a sense of belonging” may bring around, it’s important to note that they are emotional and social resources that are contingent on individuals having access to integrative processes that allow them to develop ties with others. In the context of childhood, these processes are especially important when it comes to gaining access to their peer network and forming friendships with others. These interactions and processes may take place at schools, during out-of-school activities and in more informal settings.
In these scenarios, the success of children’s interactions with peers may be contingent on their ability to participate equally, adhere to the rules of the given activity and adequately regulate their emotions when engaging with others. In the same way that the socioeconomic position of one’s family may be a source of unequal access to cultural and economic resources, disability can be a source of unequal access to important social arenas during childhood.
In the research project BUDGET, which is financed by the Research Council of Norway, we’ve investigated the material and immaterial consequences and costs that caring for children with ADHD or cerebral palsy may have on the household. The project is designed to capture how living with these diagnoses may drive household costs and is, in and of itself, not centered around the social integration of their children and their experience of belonging. While the main scope of our research is to study how household expenditure and employment can be affected by caring for a child with ADHD or cerebral palsy, as well as how the households adapt to and organize their everyday life, very preliminary analyses highlight some trends that leave room for reflection. Although not a part of the project’s focus, parents interviewed in our sample highlighted how finding suitable social arenas for their children can be a challenge.
In the case of ADHD, parents described that associated traits such as inattentiveness, impulsiveness, hyperactivity, and mood swings may impact how the child functions socially in relation to their peers and how long they maintain their interests in hobbies and activities. This can maybe lead to children facing an uphill battle when it comes to experiencing social inclusion as it can impact how they function in various social arenas. This can also potentially place the child at a heightened risk of ending up in conflict with peers, being perceived as a more “challenging” child to deal with by other adults and resulting in them not being included to the same degrees as others. This can be a source of both stress and discomfort for both the parents and the child as it can make the challenges that may accompany ADHD salient and highlight the child’s “otherness” within their immediate social context.
In the case of cerebral palsy, the challenges of social inclusion are usually more physical, and can therefore be a larger challenge to overcome, especially in places where leisure time activities may be less diversified and centered around sports. Depending on the degree of cerebral palsy, a child may have a minor or major physical disability that translates into the increased difficulty in participating in a lot of arenas. As in the case of ADHD, this can make it harder for the children and parents to find suitable social arenas where they can participate on the same terms as able-bodied children.
The diagnoses of children can impact their opportunity to feel belonging and highlights a structural challenge in how childhood is organized that may generate social exclusion. It can physically and socially prevent the children from accessing the same activities and meeting points their peers participate in, and consequently put them at a heightened risk of social isolation. Their possibility to participate and socialize with other children outside the classroom can further be prone to the different opportunities and leisure time activities where they live, but also to their parents’ time and resourcefulness. Having a child with a disability can make it more difficult for parents to ask for support (e. g. help with driving their kids to football practice), as their child may have more needs than others. The intersection of a child’s disability with their family’s capacity to spend time and resources on facilitating their access to important social arenas may generate both increased and decreased opportunities for social integration. While not an issue actively studied and explored within the framework of BUDGET, it does highlight an area of potential sociological interest when it comes to unequal opportunities to participate that calls for further investigation.
About Markus Lynum
Markus is working as a scientific assistant at Consumption research Norway (SIFO) and is a sociologist by training. In addition to working on issues of consumer policy he is interested in exploring the interconnections between inequality and access to integrative processes which he also wrote his master’s thesis on.