Observed Social Problem Solving and Friendship Quality in Children with a Traumatic Brain Injury
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Children who have experienced a traumatic brain injury (TBI) are at risk for a variety of maladaptive cognitive, behavioral and social outcomes (Yeates et al., 2007). Research involving the social problem solving (SPS) abilities of children with TBI indicates a preference for lower level strategies when compared to children who have experienced an orthopedic injury (OI; Hanten et al., 2008, 2011). Research on SPS in non-injured populations has highlighted the significance of the identity of the social partner (Rubin et al., 2006). Within the pediatric TBI literature few studies have utilized friends as the social partner in SPS contexts, and fewer have used in-vivo SPS assessments. The current study aimed to build on existing research of SPS in children with TBI by utilizing an observational coding scheme to capture in-vivo problem solving behaviors between children with TBI and a best friend. The current study included children with TBI (n = 41), children with OI (n = 43), and a non-injured typically developing group (n = 41). All participants were observed completing a task with a friend and completed a measure of friendship quality. SPS was assessed using an observational coding scheme that captured SPS goals, strategies, and outcomes. It was expected children with TBI would produce fewer successes, fewer direct strategies, and more avoidant strategies. ANOVAs tested for group differences in SPS successes, direct strategies and avoidant strategies. Analyses were run to see if positive or negative friendship quality moderated the relation between group type and SPS behaviors. Group differences were found between the TBI and non-injured group in the SPS direct strategy of commands. No group differences were found for other SPS outcome variables of interest. Moderation analyses partially supported study hypotheses regarding the effect of friendship quality as a moderator variable. Additional analyses examined SPS goal-strategy sequencing and grouped SPS goals into high cost and low cost categories. Results showed a trend supporting the hypothesis that children with TBI had fewer SPS successes, especially with high cost goals, compared to the other two groups. Findings were discussed highlighting the moderation results involving children with severe TBI.