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I could never do that before’: effectiveness of a tailored Internet support intervention to increase the social participation of youth with disabilities

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Abstract

Background

Youth use the Internet for a variety of purposes including social networking. Youth with disabilities are limited in their social networks and friendships with peers. The aim was to investigate the effectiveness of tailored one-on-one support strategies designed to facilitate social participation of youth with disabilities through the use of the Internet for social networking.

Methods

Eighteen youth aged 10–18 years with cerebral palsy, physical disability or acquired brain injury received support, training and assistive technology at their home to learn to use the Internet for building social networks. The Canadian Occupational Performance Measure (COPM) and Goal Attainment Scale (GAS) were used to evaluate objective changes in performance and satisfaction. Interviews with the youth identified subjective changes they experienced through participation in the programme and to determine whether and how the intervention influenced their social participation.

Results

Youth showed an increase in performance and satisfaction with performance on identified goals concerning social networking on the COPM; Paired T-test showed that these differences were statistically significant at P < 0.001. GAS T-scores demonstrated successful outcomes (>50) for 78% of the youth. Interviews showed that youth were positive about the benefits of hands-on training at home leading to increased use of the Internet for social networking.

Conclusions

The Internet could be a viable method to facilitate social participation for youth with disabilities. Youth identified the benefits of one-to-one support at home and training of the family compared with typical group training at school. Despite its success with this group of youth, the time and effort intensive nature of this approach may limit the viability of such programmes. Further longitudinal research should investigate whether Internet use is sustained post intervention, and to identify the factors that best support ongoing successful and safe use.

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