Meeting Point: Latest From Lovaas

September 07

Meeting Point: Latest From Lovaas

Facilitating Peer Interactions at School

Today, inclusion of students with autism in general education classrooms is not unusual and increased efforts are made to facilitate peer interactions. These peer interactions seldom occur without careful planning usually accomplished by a one-on-one aide, a speech/language pathologist, or a social worker who often donates extra time to make it work. Finding time in the already busy schedule to teach peer interactions is a major challenge for the planners. Below are some examples of how peer interaction has been incorporated into the daily or weekly schedule for students with autism at some schools.

Interaction during recess

Recess is a natural time for peers to interact and while some argue that recess should be "free time" (by some called "down time") for a student with autism, it is hard to ignore the opportunity recess provides to help develop a student's social skills. Some schools have resolved this issue by arranging social activities that a particular student with autism already finds rewarding or by identifying another time during the school day that would better serve as the student's "free time."

Interaction at the lunch table

Facilitating peer interactions at lunch presents another set of benefits and challenges. Social activities are often easier to organize during lunch break because everyone is sitting down at a table. Self-monitoring systems or word card prompts to help promote social behaviors are relatively easy to employ for the aide. However, the student with autism may find it difficult to finish eating and participate in peer interactions simultaneously within the allotted time for lunch. At one school they solved this problem by allowing the student to start lunch 15 minutes early so that he or she could concentrate better on the social activities when the whole group of students gathered together during the regular lunchtime.

Peer-group time

While recess is usually eliminated in late elementary school or middle school, some schools have identified pockets of time when small groups of peers can get together for facilitated interactions. For example, a few students may be granted permission to periodically skip homeroom or silent reading in order to participate in a peer group activity with a student with autism.

Buddy time

Some schools look for activities involving buddies. At one school a student with autism was given small jobs to do at the beginning of the school day such as collecting papers from a number of tables and delivering them to the office. A buddy was chosen to share these jobs in a way that invited interaction. For example, the buddy and the student with autism would take turns each morning telling the other which table to collect papers from first, second, and third.

Another school found that a particular 10-minute period on Thursdays, that was usually set aside for practicing spelling words before the Friday spelling test, was the perfect time for the student with autism and a buddy to sit outside the classroom and practice together.

Interaction during pullout

When a student with autism who is well-adjusted in a group setting cannot keep up with his peers in a classroom activity because the material is too advanced, some schools identify other students who might also benefit from a less advanced activity and pull them out together for small group lessons. For example, two students who also struggled with reading skills were included in a group with a student with autism. All three students received the extra attention they needed and also benefited from practicing the special attention required to respond to instructions given in a group setting, such as when the reading interventionist asks, "What did Bob just say?" or, " Linda, read one page, stop, then ask Charlie to continue from there."

Extracurricular activities

Some schools look outside the typical school day to find opportunities for students to get together. At one school they formed peer groups during the twenty or so minutes before school began in the morning when many students had already arrived. At another school they allowed the aide of a student with autism to accompany her to the after school Girl Scouts program in which many of her peers participated.

Would you like more information on other issues that often arise at school? Let us know here

The names of all children in this newsletter have been changed in respect for family confidentiality.

From the Editor

Here again are some of the letters to the editor we have received recently. We will continue to take your requests into consideration when planning future articles. If you have insight into any of the requests, based on your own experience, feel free to forward your comments to us as well. I look forward to continuing our discussion next month.

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