Young children's social networks as a function of age and dysfunction

Michael Lewis, Candice Feiring, Jeanne Brooks‐Gunn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Social networks provide a larger context than that of the nuclear family in which the child develops. In order to examine the networks of young children, mothers of 75 handicapped children, aged 3 to 6 years, and a matched sample of normal children were surveyed in terms of people in the child's network and frequency of daily contact. The effects of age of subject and handicapping condition on social network composition and contact were of interest. Handicapping condition played a much greater role in the network composition than did chronological age. Handicapped children had larger networks, although they did not have daily contact with network members compared to normal children. Handicapped children thus were not isolated, but appeared to have a large network composed of relatives and adults and, to a lesser extent, peers. Normal children showed a developmental shift, in terms of an increase in the proportion of peers to adults, from 3 to 6 years, whereas handicapped children did not show this change. It is suggested that the handicapped child's developmental delay and caregiving demands may necessitate greater and more prolonged adult contact, which, consequently, constrains the nature of the social network in terms of adult and peer composition. Insufficient peer contact may restrict the handicapped child's opportunity to learn important social skills.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)142-157
Number of pages16
JournalInfant Mental Health Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1988

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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