The Power of a Peer

by Jordan Lupton, M.S., CCC-SLP (Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, North Carolina)

Photo credit: Pixabay

INTRODUCTION

Students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) often face significant struggles with social interaction, yet they have fewer opportunities to interact with typically developing peers because of an increased need for adult assistance with academics, attention, or behavior. Although these areas are important for improving a child’s quality of life at school, many parents of children with ASD rank social communication and interaction among their top concerns, and many ASD learners themselves desire to learn ways to improve peer relationships at school.

Peer Mediated Instruction and Intervention (PMII) provides a way for teachers and therapists to address this area of need. Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill define PMII as follows:

“With a foundation in behaviorism and social learning theory, PMII involves systematically teaching peers without disabilities, ways of engaging learners with ASD in positive and meaningful social interactions.”

In addition to the benefits for the learner with ASD, PMII also benefits typically developing peers in expanding their social network, developing new friendships, and having higher quality interactions with classmates. Anyone can be trained in the use of PMII. Teachers, therapists, and paraprofessionals should work together to implement PMII successfully.

PMII FOR PRESCHOOL AND ELEMENTARY-AGED CHILDREN

  • Peer Modeling: Teach a peer to demonstrate a target skill to the student with ASD. Target skills may include: requesting, following directions, greeting, or joining in an activity or conversation.
  • Peer Initiation Training: Train peers to encourage interactions with students with ASD, such as maintaining conversations, taking turns, or responding to invitations.
  • Direct Training: Peers and students with ASD are taught specific skills directly.

PMII FOR UPPER ELEMENTARY, MIDDLE AND HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS

  • Peer Networks: Peers meet and interact with the learner with ASD in a regular meeting outside of instructional time.
  • Peer Supports: Peers support the learner with ASD academically and socially in an inclusive environment.

USING PMII IN THE CLASSROOM OR THERAPY SESSIONS

  1. Identify the goal for your learner with ASD and times when social interactions naturally occur.
  2. Select peers thoughtfully and carefully. The peers should be exhibit good language, social and play skills, express a willingness to participate, and have parent permission.
  3. Train peers to recognize and appreciate individual differences, then review target behaviors.
  4. Develop scripts for peers to use, and role play with them.
  5. Plan for peers to interact with the learner with ASD in scheduled times daily.
  6. Monitor progress and provide peer support and feedback as needed.

SUMMARY

Peer-Mediated Instruction and Intervention is an effective intervention for students with autism spectrum disorder. PMII can be used to effectively address goals in social skills, communication, joint attention, play skills, school-readiness, and academic skills.

REFERENCES

AFIRM Team. (2015). Peer-mediated instruction and intervention. Chapel Hill, NC: National

Professional Development Center on Autism Spectrum Disorder, FPG Child Development Center, University of North Carolina. Retrieved from http://afirm.fpg.unc.edu/Peer-mediated-instruction-and-intervention

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