People with disabilities experience high rates of disadvantage, that emerge in childhood and persist throughout the life course. Adolescence may be a critical period in the emergence of disability related disadvantage: rapid physiological and cognitive development, occurring in parallel with secondary education and changing patterns of family and peer relationships, mean that the experiences of adolescents with disabilities are likely to play a crucial role in shaping their life chances into adulthood.
In this paper, we contribute to understanding the mechanisms and processes that drive disadvantage among people with disabilities by investigating the time-use of adolescents with disabilities in comparison to their peers without disabilities. Data for 7,905 children aged 10-15 (19,687 child-year observations) are drawn from the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children. As the first nationally representative time-diary study to identify disability-related gaps in adolescents time-use, we make an important methodological contribution to the literature on participation among children and adolescents with disabilities. We further investigate differences in disability-related gaps in time-use by age and gender.
We find substantively large disability-related gaps in time spent in activities and with companions, patterned in a way that is likely to be detrimental to the relationships, learning, and health of adolescents with disabilities. Consistent with previous studies, adolescents with disabilities spend substantially less time with peers and more time with mothers and alone, indicating that they are socially isolated. They also spend less time in educational activities (at school, homework, private lessons) and more time in sedentary leisure (screen time). Disability related gaps in time-use are largest among boys and older adolescents.
Our findings imply that social exclusion of adolescents with disabilities is pervasive and damaging for their social relationships, academic achievement, and health. Given the sensitivity of the developing body and brain in adolescence, harms resulting from the social exclusion of adolescents with disabilities are likely to persist over the life course. Broad social and institutional changes are necessary to ensure that adolescents with disabilities are fully included in peer groups and schools.