In a recent study, researchers looked at using peer networks to help elementary school students with autism improve their social communication skills. Four children with autism participated in the study. A peer network program was created for each child. In each peer network activity, a child with autism sat between two peers at a small table. The teacher used games, puzzles, or other cooperative activities to work on specific social communication skills. Children were taught phrases they could use to talk to their peers about the game or activity, such as saying "I have a green one," This is fun," "I did it," and "Nice job." Cards with written phrases and visual cues were use to help children remember to say the phrases.
The study's authors reported that all four children improved their communication skills. More specifically, two children increased their initiations with peers and three children showed improvements in responding to peers.
The researchers believed that these parts of the program may have contributed to its success:
- Providing children with a choice of games/activities (giving choices is a GREAT way to motivate kids with autism - see the video below for easy examples),
- Providing visual cue cards that listed comments children could make about the game/activity (we all know how helpful visual cues and supports are),
- Using a point chart. Children could earn points for participating throughout the session. The points could be used to choose a prize from a "treasure box" at the end of the session.
For more information and details about the how the peer networks used were used (and specific data about the results), read the article:
"The Use of Peer Networks to Increase Communicative Acts of Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders" by Debra Kamps, Rose Mason, Kathy Thiemann-Bourque, Sarah Feldmiller, Amy Turcotte, and Todd Miller
Journal: Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities (2014), Volume 29, Issue 4, pages 230-245