Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can learn to be social by working with peers. A study from the University of Kansas Life Span Institute and the University of Washington found that peer networks established at school for can help children with ASD learn social communication skills. The findings come from the first large randomized study of a social communication intervention for ASD. The results could lead to other schools adopting peer groups for ASD treatment.
The four-year study followed 95 students with ASD in Kansas and Washington State. Throughout kindergarten and first grade, 56 of the students participated in the intervention. For the intervention, each child was grouped with two to three typically developing classmates in a peer network. The peer network focused on teaching social communication skills like making requests and saying “please” and “thank you.” The remaining 39 children served as the control group.
The researchers followed up on the students’ progress at four points in time, probing outside of the intervention sessions to investigate whether the children used their skills in other contexts.
Debra Kamps, senior scientist and director of the University of Kansas Center for Autism Research and Training, explained the results, stating “We found that the children who participated in the social network not only made significant progress in social communication during the intervention but also made many more initiations to their peers in general. Teachers also reported that children in the intervention were more social and had better classroom behavior.”
The results could encourage other schools to use the peer network intervention. The researchers report that some of the teachers involved in the study have since adopted peer networks in their classrooms.
This research is published in the Journal of autism and Developmental Disorders.
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