ISSN 1753-0849

Childhoods Today Online JournalChildhoods Today

An online journal for childhood studies

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Volume 5 Issue 1 - July 31, 2011

‘Talk to me as a teenager’: Experiences of Friendship for Disabled Teenagers who Have Little or No Speech

Mary Wickenden

This paper, focusing particularly on friendships, draws on data from a larger ethnographic study of the lives of physically disabled teenagers in England who use Alternative and Augmentative Communication (AAC). At home these teenagers have rich fully reciprocated social relationships. In contrast, their social networks elsewhere are reduced compared with their peers, as making friends is quite difficult, even though they see themselves as friendly sociable people. Young people typically use talking to explore and construct their identities, to negotiate social relationships and to make friends. However AAC users who cannot use speech are more dependent on nonverbal communication, technology and the skills of mediators to interpret for and represent them. Thus who they can be is often masked by what they can do. The data illustrates the participants’ views on, and experiences of, friendships including issues relating to being ‘normal’ teenagers and being disabled, autonomy, trust, equality and reciprocity in friendships.