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

Dynamic Assessment: The Answer to Moving Away from Standardized Tests

by Sarah Smith, M.S., CCC-SLP and Beth Burns, M.S., CCC-SLP, Speech-Language Pathologists in Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools

Our most recent blog entry talked about the limitations of standardized tests.  Today, we’ll address the answer to the question:  “If I shouldn’t use a standardized test to determine presence of a language disorder, what do I do?”  In short, use dynamic assessment, which means test – teach – test.

Dynamic Assessment is the best way to eliminate the biases present within standardized assessments. As a contrast to a standardized assessment, dynamic assessment  shifts our consideration from do they know it… to can they learn it?

Can the student acquire new skills with the same effort as peers from similar backgrounds?  

Dynamic Assessment  is composed of a pretest, mediated learning experience, and a post test. Throughout the entire process we are evaluating whether the student can learn new skills with the same ease or effort as typically developing peers.  Dynamic assessment also gives us insight into how the student learns. The subjectivity within Dynamic Assessment means it is imperative for us as clinicians to develop our clinical opinions by knowing what normal is.  We also need to know how much instructional effort is needed for typical peers.  In other words, we need to have good clinical skills.

Language Samples incorporating Dynamic Assessment are the fastest and the best way to provide a qualitative look at a student’s language.

For detailed information on applying dynamic assessment — Check it out!

Fast Mapping Task Test — Check it out!

Non-Word Repetition Task– Check it out!

Quick Guide: Pragmatic Language

by Rena Dadolf, M.S., CCC-SLP and Theresa Menz, M.S., CCC-SLP

We’re hearing a lot these days about Pragmatic Language Disorders…

The first question many teachers and parents have is “What is Pragmatic Language?”

Pragmatics is the understanding and use of language in social situations – in other words, successfully having conversations with other people.

Pragmatic skills involve understanding and using nonverbal skills such as body language as well as what we say, how we say it, and the appropriateness of what we say.

Pragmatic skills are vital for communicating our personal thoughts, ideas and feelings. Children with pragmatic language weakness may misinterpret others’ communicative intent and have difficulty responding appropriately verbally or non-verbally. Conversation skills are often weak and children with this disorder may not engage in the back and forth fluid flow of questioning, answering, and commenting that comes so naturally to most of us.

Pragmatic Language Skills:

  1. Using language for different functions: greeting, informing, requesting
  2. Changing your language based on the needs of the person you are talking to:
    • Speaking differently in the library than on a playground
    • Giving background information
    • Talking differently to a baby than an adult
  3. Following Conversation Rules:
    • Taking turns in conversation
    • Staying on topic
  4. Rephrasing when misunderstood
  5. Using appropriate facial expressions and eye contact
  6. Understanding how to take another person’s perspective

While all children need to be taught these skills, children with pragmatic language weaknesses need explicit instruction involving these skills. The use of visual supports, practice, and role play are key. Contact your school’s speech-language pathologist to learn more!

The Matching Game: How to Pair Your Language to Meet A Student’s Developmental Level

Photo By Clementina – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11229108

Written by: Sarah Michaels, Heather Miller, Phyllis Norwood, Heather Petrusa, Amy Samuels

Have you ever asked a child a question or given directions only to be met with a blank stare?  You may have a child in your classroom with language that is 1-2 years below what is expected for kids that age.  Therefore, it is important that you know how to reduce the verbal demands so students understand and can respond to you at their level.  Here are eight suggestions for matching your language to meet students at their level:

  • Provide extended wait time.  Some kids need (an excruciating) 5-10+ seconds to respond.  Students may need time to process auditory/verbal input or formulate their response.  Wait and watch.
  • Give students advanced notice that they will be called on.  Let them know when their turn will be and what will be expected so they have time to formulate a response.
  • Say less!  Speak one word beyond the child’s ability.  If a child only uses single words (e.g., ball),  then speak in 2 word phrases (e.g., blue ball; ball please).  If a child is using phrases, then speak in simple sentences.  For kids using longer utterances, consider your vocabulary and syntax.  Re-phrase using simpler vocabulary and sentence structure.
  • Repeat, repeat, repeat.   Repeat and rephrase your statements to give students time to process what you’ve said.  Also slow down and repeat instructions as needed.  Additionally, repeating and rephrasing what the child says helps to build comprehension and retention.
  • Provide fill-in cues.  Reduce the expectation for the student’s response (especially in large group settings).  Start the statement and let the child finish the sentence using 1-3 words.  For example, if you ask, “Where was the boy?” then say “The boy was ___” with the expectation that the student fills in “under” or “under the table.”
  • Use pictures and gestures.  Pictures help support expressive and receptive language.  They can reduce the need for a lot of verbal input and get to the point faster for some kids.  Some children process visual information better than auditory information.  Refer to pictures in books, use a picture schedule, wear small pictures on a lanyard for frequently used directions and routines (e.g., sit, listen, wash hands, line up, etc.).  Don’t worry about what the icon looks like (clipart, stock photos, Boardmaker, etc.), just be consistent with each image.
  • Give choices.  Provide verbal or picture choices to narrow the wide open field of responses to 2 or 3.
  • Remember to praise any response a student gives! Repeating their response also allows for additional processing and retention of information.

It’s important for you to know your students’ language levels and to know how to match your language to meet the child at their level.  For more information, talk to your school-based speech-language pathologist.