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Keywords

Adolescents, Disability, Online support, Peer mentors

 

Authors

  1. BARNFATHER, ALISON MSc
  2. STEWART, MIRIAM PhD
  3. MAGILL-EVANS, JOYCE PhD
  4. RAY, LYNNE PhD
  5. LETOURNEAU, NICOLE PhD

Abstract

Social support plays a key role in improving health outcomes for children with chronic conditions. Internet connections are an important component of adolescents' social networks and may overcome geographic and environmental barriers for those with disabilities. This article focuses on the processes associated with a 6-month online support intervention for adolescents with cerebral palsy or spina bifida. Specifically, the purpose was to determine the extent to which adolescents used an online peer support intervention, the processes used, and the perceived benefits and satisfaction with the intervention. Five peer mentors with the same disabilities provided information, affirmation, and emotional support. The online environment created a safe space to foster reciprocal interpersonal connections and appropriate social comparison. Two-thirds of the participants viewed the computer-mediated support intervention as fun. Factors influencing the perceived utility of the intervention included typing speed, cognitive skills, and perceived need for additional support. Girls were significantly more likely to contribute messages than were boys. Peer mentors wished that this type of support program had been available when they were teens, appreciated the supportive elements, and reported learning from the teen participants. Health professionals wanting to implement online support need to consider the age and ability levels of participants and the optimal length and format of the support program.