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By Marshall Raskind, Ph.D.
This was the first study to show self-disclosure behavior and the sharing of "inner life" on the Internet by children with self-identified LD through self-initiated messages. It appeared in several instances that the children were more willing to self-disclose through online messages than in face-to-face, "real-world" interactions. Statements that illustrate this include:
This finding is consistent with past research which indicates that many people are more likely to self-disclose online than they do in real world interactions. This has special importance for a population of children who often have social difficulties and are prone to social rejection, as the virtual environment may offer a social context that does not accentuate their deficits, and provides a place where they are more likely to experience positive interactions with others.
Results of the study also corroborate existing research on the challenges experienced by children with LD, including academic difficulties, emotional problems, and social distress14, 15, 16, 17 as well as other qualitative studies of children18, 19, 20 and adults21, 22, 13, 23; 24 aimed at capturing the insider perspective. We found the expressions of social distress particularly disconcerting considering that after decades of knowing that children with LD experience social rejection, they continue to face the same kinds of social isolation and victimization today.
Most of the children also wrote messages asking for help from both their peers and the virtual characters on the site. The importance of helpful resources for students with LD has been established in earlier studies 25. In our study, the children's reactions generally indicated that they were satisfied with the response to their requests for help and advice. Considering that several children appeared hesitant to ask for help in the "real" world, and were afraid of their peers' reactions, the virtual world of the Internet might provide an important alternative, or complement, to assisting and supporting children with LD. The potential of the Internet as a support system is particularly important in light of research showing that individuals with LD who are willing to ask for and receive help from others are more likely to attain life success.
Beyond the disclosure of difficulties and LD identities, the online messages illustrate that the participating children shared age-appropriate youth culture (e.g., music, fashion, movies, "romance")4 and that their LD's represented only part of their world. This is a positive finding as research has indicated that the ability to compartmentalize one's LD, that is, to see it as only one aspect of one's self and not be overly defined by it, is associated with life success21. Future studies may do well to explore how participating in popular youth culture may serve to empower, normalize, and promote compartmentalization and self-awareness in children with LD. Individuals with LD who are able to compartmentalize are more likely to develop awareness of their special talents and abilities, while accepting their limitations. An awareness of one's strengths and the settings in which to foster them has also been equated with positive life outcomes for people with LD21, 13, 26.
In summary, the results of this study provide in-depth, authentic, first-hand accounts of children's day-to-day experiences of living with LD. The study enabled us to capture the children's inner voices through self-initiated communication. It also demonstrates the current and potential benefit of the Internet for enabling new and wider social connections for coping with distress by sharing concerns and obtaining social support. Paradoxically, Internet sites may provide a sense of relatedness and closeness, as well as encourage self-disclosure despite the actual physical distance that exists between users.
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