Exploring the after-hours social experiences of youth with disabilities in residential immersive life skills programs: a photo elicitation study
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PURPOSE: This study explored the meaning of the after-hours social experiences of youth with disabilities in a residential life skills program. After-hours experiences occur outside of formal program hours, primarily in the evenings. METHOD: Five youth with cerebral palsy (three females) participated in an exploratory photo elicitation study while attending one of two residential immersive life skills programs. Following an auto-driven photo elicitation method, youth took photos of their choosing and then were interviewed about photos they elected to share. Interview data were analyzed thematically. RESULTS: Themes illustrated meaningful social experiences and their benefits. Two themes described the after-hours social experiences of most importance to youth: learning about strengths from working together, and having meaningful individual and group conversations. Three themes reflected benefits reported by youth: learning about differences among people, gaining new perspectives and new knowledge about oneself, and developing friendships and a sense of "family." CONCLUSIONS: The findings illuminate the benefits of after-hours social experiences for youth who may have had little opportunity previously to informally interact with other youth with disabilities. The findings highlight the importance of the immersive, group nature of a residential, away-from-home youth transition program, particularly the value added by the after-hours program component.IMPLICATIONS FOR REHABILITATIONThe findings support the value of an over-night residential aspect for life skills programs for youth with disabilities.Residential immersive life skills programs provide opportunities for youth to discuss common experiences and shared challenges, leading to the formation of social bonds.Residential immersive life skills programs provide opportunities for youth to interact with peers in the absence of adults, and to make choices about how to use their personal time.It is important to intentionally design transition programs to provide opportunities for after-hours social experiences, including working together and socializing.
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