Adolescent Judgments and Reasoning about the Failure to Include Peers with Social Disabilities

Friday, May 15, 2015: 5:30 PM-7:00 PM
Imperial Ballroom (Grand America Hotel)
K. Bottema-Beutel and Z. Li, Lynch School of Education, Boston College, Chestnut Hill, MA
Background:  Adolescents with ASD are often located on the periphery of social networks. To mitigate this reality, there is a need for an improved understanding of the reasoning process in which typical peers engage as they make decisions about whether or not to include peers with ASD in social experiences. According to the domain theory of moral reasoning, there is a relationship between the features of events and individuals’ conceptualization of them as moral, conventional, personal, or multi-dimensional (Turiel et al., 1987). Given this relationship between reasoning and context, this study was conducted to discern how adolescent reasoning about the failure to include a peer with social disabilities varies as situational features in which the event occurred vary.

Objectives:  To determine: 1) if there are differences in judgments about whether the failure to include is acceptable or unacceptable across four contexts representing a continuum of public and private spaces, including a public school classroom, a casual soccer practice on school grounds, a lab group in a science class, and a home;  2) whether the probability of giving moral versus non-moral justifications (including personal, societal and prudential domains) differed by context, the ultimate judgment of the participant, and the side of the argument to which the justification was applied; and  3) if there is an interaction between the context and side of the argument to which the justification was applied.

 Methods:  A clinical interview involving 4 vignettes depicting each context was used to elicit judgments and justifications across in 38 adolescents aged 13 – 18. Each interview was coded for justifications as they were applied to each side of the argument, as well as the ultimate judgment. Within-subjects ANOVA was used to determine differences in judgments across contexts. Logistic regression was used to determine if the propensity to give moral justifications differed across contexts.

Results:  Participants were more likely to judge the failure to include as acceptable in personal as compared to public contexts. Personal choice was proposed as a counter-argument in the home context, while societal concerns were proposed in the soccer context. Using logistic regression, we found that participants were more likely to provide moral justifications as to why failure to include was acceptable in a classroom as compared to home, lab group, and soccer practice contexts. There was also a significant interaction between the side of the argument and the context. Non-moral justifications were more prevalent for why failure to include was acceptable in the classroom contexts as compared to other contexts.

Conclusions:  The findings provide evidence that adolescents engage in complex reasoning that is sensitive to contextual features of the situation in which the failure to include occurs. Our approach provides detail on how students perceive and prioritize moral and non-moral justifications for their decisions across contexts. This information can be used to optimize intervention practices aimed at increasing the degree to which typically developing peers choose to include peers with social disabilities such as ASD in social endeavors.