Welcome to the module on Peer Mediated Support.
This module is designed to help you understand the importance of using a peer-mediated approach when teaching children and youth with autism spectrum disorders and typically developing peers ways to interact with each other successfully
- Teach peers strategies for talking and playing with students with ASD
- Increase interactions between students with ASD and their typically developing peers
- Minimize adult support
Some of the goals of implementing a peer-mediated program are to:
- Identify the benefits of using peer-mediated supports to enhance successful interactions between students with ASD and typically developing peers
- Describe the steps involved in implementing a peer-mediated intervention
- Describe the steps in maintaining peer-mediated support
Questions to be Answered
- Why use peer-mediated supports?
- The principles of using peer-mediated supports.
- Steps in implementing peer-mediated supports.
- Assessing and maintaining the program.
A. Why use Peer-Mediated Supports?
People who do not have opportunities to spend time with others during the school year do not develop meaningful relationships later in life. Snell & Janney, 2000
What we know
Social impairment and difficulty with social reciprocity – the understanding of the back-and-forth nature of social interactions- is one of the defining features of autism (American Psychiatric Association, 1994; National Research Council, 2001).
Research has shown that students with ASD respond less frequently to social initiations, and they engage in shorter interactions due to this deficit area. Patterns of behaviour (e.g., hand-flapping, body rocking) or other inappropriate behaviours (e.g., tantrums) may decrease the likelihood that typically developing peers will initiate social interactions (Bass & Mulick, 2007;Lee, Odom, & Loftin, 2007; McConnell, 2002).
- Egocentric with unusual special interests
- Possessive of favoured objects/people and experience difficulty sharing
- Genuinely happy to be on their own
- Issues with anger management and/or anxiety with poor conflict resolution
- Difficulty understanding communication of others and the hidden social rules
- Attraction to toys/objects rather than the people in the room
- Poor comprehension of language
- Difficulties expressing themselves
- Difficulty shifting attention from their interest area to the interests of peers
Atwood (1996) identifies a number of reasons why students with a diagnosis of ASD may find it difficult to make friends:
Peer mediated instruction can address these concerns by teaching students with ASD, as well as their peers, new social skills at the same time increasing social opportunities within natural environments.
“Tell me, and I forget. Teach me, and I remember. Involve me, and I LEARN!”
- Positive social relationships are linked to higher self-esteem and cognitive growth (Snell & Janney,2000)
- Social opportunities for students with disabilities are more limited than those of children who are typically developing (Snell & Janney,2000)
- Some may think that social skill programs will not be effective for a student because of some of their challenging behaviours. Oftentimes, many of these behaviours are the function of social and communication difficulties. By teaching social skills and how to communicate in social situations, challenging behaviours decrease (Quill, 2000)
- Although it may seem that students with ASD do not want to interact with peers, in actuality, these students often want to engage in social interactions, but are unsure of how to engage in the skills and need to be taught
- Having an educational assistant as the person who primarily interacts with the student limits their opportunities for social interaction and learning of age-appropriate social skills (Giangreco, Edelman, Luiselli, & MacFarland, 1997)
- Increased acceptance of students with disabilities
- Higher rates of self-assertion
- Higher tolerance, acceptance and interactive time with students with ASD
- Understanding of others prejudices
- Improved self-reflection
- Enthusiasm towards social activities with students with ASD
Positive effects for typically developing peers
Positive Effects for Typically Developing Peers
The National Research Academy (2001) has stated that the two primary educational goals for students with autism are:
Peer‐mediated programs work to meet these goals by teaching social skills and decreasing adult dependence and support.
The Principles of Using Peer-Mediated Supports
“Whenever possible, prompt through a peer rather than the target student directly”
Peer-mediated interventions are based on principles of behaviourism and social learning theory (Bandura,1977).
Peers are systematically taught ways of engaging children and youth with ASD in positive social interactions.
The most critical aspect of a Peer-Mediated intervention is the way educators prompt students. Educators are required to prompt through peers rather than the traditional method of prompting the student with ASD directly.
Adult-Mediated Approach (Tradtional Method)
“If a student looks to you for help, redirect him or her to a peer for help”
Typically developing students are naturally exposed to many opportunities that promote social interactions. This does not occur as often for students with ASD. Using a peer-mediated intervention we can create opportunities for students to interact successfully.
It is important that all of the peers are involved. This includes classroom team that works towards building the capacity of the class in order to enhance social opportunities for all students to engage in positive social interactions (OSEP,2004)
To ensure motivation is achieved, consider using same-aged peers, common interests to link students, and reinforcing activities.
- Social Competence and Interaction Skills
Students with ASD have impairments in the area of social understanding and language; this often impacts their ability to learn social skills by watching others or by simply being in the presence of peers who are typically developing (Quill,2000) Therefore, each individual must be gtaught social skills based on their individual needs (Snell $ Janney, 2000; Quill, 2000)
- Academic Achievement
Poor social skills can affect the student’s ability to engage in academic tasks. Similarly, difficulties with academic achievement can influence the student’s ability to engage in social interactions.
There are five major factors to ensure successful social interactions for all students:
Peer Mediated Approach
Steps in Implementing Peer-Mediated Supports
Step 1. Selecting Peers
Although all peers in the classroom can receive training, it is important to consider which peers will initially be chosen to promote the social interactions and participate in “created opportunities”.
Consider the following when choosing peers
|Development & Ability||
Step 2. Training and Supporting Peers
The first phase is to teach the peers to recognize and appreciate individual differences. The educator teaches the peers about the similarities and differences of all individuals, explains how we learn in different ways and that we learn from each other. During this discussion the educator can give a brief overview of the similarities and differences of children with ASD. This discussion will vary in content based on the ages of the peers.
The second phase focuses on training and supporting peers by introducing specific strategies one at a time and then practicing them with an adult trainer. Peers learn specific behaviours that are used to facilitate play and social interaction.
Training and Supporting Peers
Step 3. Structured Play Setting between Peer & Student with ASD
Play opportunities/interactions are created by the educator to encourage positive social interaction and to allow peers to practice the behavioural strategies previously taught. When planning these interactions start with pre-selected peers (step 1) and use activities that are familiar and reinforcing to the student with ASD as well as the peers. Make sure that the skills required for the activity have been successfully taught to all students involved before setting up the activity. The educator is the one who will introduce the activity, provide prompts to the peers, and reinforce behaviour of all students as necessary.
|Identification of Responsible Staff||
|Use of Prompts & Reinforcement||
Structured Play Between Peer and Student
Step 4. Generalizing to a Natural Setting
As children become more proficient and as interactions become more naturalistic, peer-initiation strategies can take place in all classroom/school routines and activities, both planned and spontaneous.
Activities where peer networking can occur include:
|Social Games||Social Skills Groups|
|Academic Games||Office Helpers|
|Help with Assignments||Music, Dance, Band|
|Calendar Group/Morning Circle||Sports Groups|
|Group Projects||Lining Up|
|Gym Class||Getting Ready for School/Leaving|
|Recess||Going to Lockers|
|Free Time Activities||Getting Materials for Activities|
|Field Trips||Going from Class to Class|
|Class Parties||Doing Homework During Breaks|
|Special Interest Clubs||Gym Groups|
Educators should plan to include peer initiation strategies regularly throughout the day. The use of an activity matrix may help to organize the activities and provide structure to ensure that the learning opportunities occur. The sample activity matrix below provides a visual reminder for educators to address specific behaviours (e.g., requesting, greeting, exchanging materials) in numerous activities across the day.
|Activity||Ask to Play||Exchange Materials||Greet Peer||Request Item|
|Arrival||Say “hi” to peer|
|Free play||Say “play, please” to peer when entering an activity||Take toy from peer when offered a turn||Say “hi” to peer when entering an activity||Say “turn, please” to peer|
|Snack||Take juice pitcher from peer when offered||Say “hi” to peer when sitting down for snack||Say “juice/snack, please”|
|Small Group Activities||Painting with cars – take car from peer||Say “hi” to peer when sitting down to paint with cars||Painting with cars – Say “car/turn, please”|
|Outside||Say “play, please” in sandbox||Take shovel from peer in sandbox||Say “hi” to peer when going to play in sandbox||Say “shovel/bucket, please” in sandbox|
|Large Group Time||Take instrument basket from peer during music time||Say “turn, please” to peer at music time to request instrument basket|
|Departure||Say “bye” to peer|
Adapted from Sandall, S. R. & Schwartz, I.S. (2000). Building blocks for teaching preschoolers with special needs. Baltimore: Brookes.
D. Assessing & Maintaining the Program
Frequent monitoring of child progress will be an important component to determine the effects of the intervention strategies on social interactions. Direct observation will allow educators to assess both the quality and quantity of the children’s social engagement. For example, educators should evaluate:
- whether the peer initiates interactions with the target child
- whether the target child responds to the peer’s initiations
- whether the target child initiates with the peer
- whether the peer responds to the target child, and
- whether the target child is engaging in any inappropriate behaviors (English, Goldstein, Shafer, & Kaczmarek, 1997)
Download the Sample Data Sheet here
It is important to continue to collect data regularly. This will help the educator with:
- determining the success of the activity
- recording specific skills that the children are consistently demonstrating
- determining target skills for individual children that can become the focus of future interventions
- recording change across time (Odom et al.1993)
Maintenance of the Program:
- Use visual cues and prompts to remind students to use the skill
- Determine cues to remind educators to prompt through peers
- Incorporate opportunities to practice and reinforce the skill throughout the day
- Start with a high rate of reinforcement
- Ensure peers are reinforced for interactions
- Reinforce close approximations to the skill
Maintenance of the Program
- Social impairment is a defining feature of autism spectrum disorders.
- Peer-mediated instruction and intervention can be effectively used to increase social interactions of children with ASD and typically developing peer
- Effective implementation of Peer-mediated instruction involves selecting appropriate peers, training peers and practicing initiation strategies, extending initiations across the day, and monitoring child progress on a regular basis.
Neitzel, J., Boyd, B., Odom, S. L., & Edmondson Pretzel, R. (2008). Peer-mediated instruction and intervention for children and youth with autism spectrum disorders: Online training module (Chapel Hill: UNC-Chapel Hill, National Professional Development Center on Autism Spectrum Disorders, FPG Child Development Institute). In Ohio Center for Autism and Low Incidence (OCALI), Autism Internet Modules. Columbus, OH: OCALI.