Incorporating Behavioral Strategies to Teach Social and Play Skills with Peers
Children with autism are likely to lack the behaviors of initiation and responding to social bids by peers and may need to be taught these skills directly (Hurley-Greffner, 1996; Strain & Odom, 1986). Identifying the preferred peer of the student with autism spectrum disorder and including that peer in social activities may increase the generalization of social interaction across settings (Hall & Smith, 1996).
In their review, Hwang and Hughes (2000) identified behavioral strategies that have been demonstrated to increase social skills. Three of these strategies were incorporated in at least half of the published studies and include: using natural reinforcement, time delay, and arranging the environment to facilitate engagement (see Chapter for a description of these strategies).
Laushey and Heflin (2000) evaluated a peer-mediated strategy of a buddy system in which peers in a kindergarten class were taught to stay, play, and talk to their buddy. Peer-mediated strategies usually involve typical peers and an adult who reviews strategies that can be used to facilitate social interaction with a peer with autism spectrum disorders and provides feedback and reinforcement to both buddies. Compared with proximity to peers alone, this strategy increased the social skills of the students with autism, such as asking for an object, getting the attention of a peer, waiting for a turn, and looking in the direction of the speaker. The use of peers who volunteer to be part of a Friends Club or are selected by the student with autism to be part of the Lunch Bunch also has been reported to be effective in increasing the social skills of students with autism spectrum disorders in elementary classes (Wagner, 1999).
Arranging for motivating activities and reinforcement procedures has been used to increase the social initiation of children with autism (Oke & Schreibman, 1990). Additional strategies of arranging affection activities (McEvoy et al., 1988), priming with a low-demand, high-reinforcement session prior to the regular school activity (Zanolli, Daggett, & Adams, 1996), and the use of a tactile prompting device (Shabani et al., 2002) have all resulted in increased social initiations by children with autism toward typical peers. When designing a social skills strategy, it may be important to include extra time for the student to initiate and respond to others. Because oral communication may be difficult, students may need more time than their typical peers to answer any questions or to formulate their own comment or question.
Imitation of peers also has been the target of behavioral interventions. A training session that included prompts and praise was used to teach children with autism to follow an adult then peer model, which was effective in getting the children with autism to participate in a follow-the-leader game that occurred in a different setting (Carr & Darcy, 1990). Small-group imitation training that incorporated a least-to-most prompting strategy and praise for imitating a peer was successful for preschoolers with autism during the training session but did not maintain into the follow-up period for any but one of the participants (Garfinkle & Schwartz, 2002). Two children with autism were taught to imitate their peers when the peers used pivotal response training, and gains in language, communication, and joint attention (although not targeted) were maintained at a 2-month follow-up (Pierce & Schreibman, 1995).
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