The use of multiple sources, and an array of technical instruments, facilitated an intensive analysis of the social competence of children with albinism, providing insights into their social practices and peer relationships in ways that had not been investigated previously. The findings of the present research agree with those of previous studies indicating a relationship between vision loss, social competence, patterns of social interaction, and the formation and maintenance of friendships. Where this study differs is in its focus on children with albinism, and the comparisons between students with oculocutaneous albinism: tyrosinase negative (OCA1); oculocutaneous albinism: tyrosinase positive (0CA2); and ocular albinism (OA). The examination of specific factors that have the potential to influence social competence, peer interaction and peer relationships adds to the understanding of important dynamics that impact on the social development of this
group of children.
This study was potentially limited by the size and nature of the group of students under investigation. Albinism is a very low incidence disability. The condition affects approximately 1:20,000 people. Multiple approaches enabled the researcher to collect data from a range of viewpoints and to examine the research questions from different perspectives. To interpret the results, and establish whether the social competence of students with albinism was similar to, or different from, that of students with vision impairment (not albinism) and children with normal vision, students from these two groups were also investigated, and the data collected on children with albinism were interpreted in the light of findings from the other two groups.
Using an extensive search of psychological, medical and educational literature on social competence, the impact of vision impairment on social development, and albinism is reviewed.
While current research was available on social competence, the impact of vision loss on social development, and the medical aspects of albinism, there was a significant gap in the literature on the social competence of children with albinism, and this study is designed to address that gap.
The six major research questions, which emerged from the aims of the study, provide direction to the research. The results are reported under six themes: the social interaction of students with albinism; the social ability of students with albinism; social attitudes towards students with albinism; factors that contribute to or detract from the social competence of students with albinism; friendship understanding of students with albinism; and the impact of non academic behaviours on students with albinism.
The findings show that the social activities of children with albinism were affected by two aspects of their condition: the vision problems
(including poor visual acuity and extreme photophobia), and the lack of melanin, which resulted in skin sensitivity. Although these students had some interests in common with their peers, the most obvious differences were their preference for indoor activities, more passive social pastimes and a lack of engagement in competitive sports. Contradictory patterns of social behaviour were apparent. The majority of students in the study had a well-developed repertoire of social skills. However, they tended to miss or misunderstand subtle social nuances and social feedback, and needed assistance to interpret social dynamics and make sense of the social environment. Severe vision impairment clearly imposed a major difficulty in social understanding and resulted in some examples of inappropriate, assertive behaviour. Although students with albinism were not as popular as students with no vision problems, the findings showed that they were not rejected by classmates. Of note was their high
self-esteem, which did not appear to be affected by their condition. Children with albinism varied in their stages of friendship understanding, both in relation to peers and in relation to students in other albinism groups.
Notable similarities and differences between children in the three albinism sub-groups, and the two comparative groups indicated that vision status and physical appearance played a part in social role understanding, social cognition, friendship understanding and social behaviour. This did not appear to be the case, however, with self-esteem.
The complexities identified in this research study, and the limitation imposed by the small sample, provide direction for future research. This thesis breaks new ground and opens the way for further investigation into the impact of this rare condition that, according to the literature, can have such powerful social consequences.