Teaching Positive Peer Interaction Skills
I have a 3rd grader with Autism who is fully included. He is trying to gain attention from his peers by imitating their actions. His peers are becoming frustrated. How can we encourage him to interact better with his peers?
Social situations, specifically making friends, can be a complex process. For children with autism, these types of social situations can be particularly difficult. However, preparing them ahead of time and teaching/rehearsing interaction strategies can make the process a bit easier. This answer provides three strategies to consider for developing and promoting positive peer interactions. One way of doing this is through the use of visual supports (e.g. Behavior Stories, Comic Strip Conversations) along with supportive care from adults. A second option is through the use of video modeling. And a third is to create opportunities for structured peer interactions via errands or simple hands-on projects.
A behavior story is a simple description of an everyday social situation, written from a child’s perspective. The situation is described in detail and focuses on the important social cues, events, expectations and ways for the child to react in the situation. Behavior stories are intended to be used with a child prior to an event. It is rehearsed with an adult so that when the event actually occurs, the child can use the story as a guide for behavior.
Comic Strip Conversations are a product of the work by Carol Gray. They are conversations between two or more people which includes the use of simple drawings in comic strip format. They provide additional support to individuals with autism in understanding and interpreting the quick pace of social situations that they may encounter.
Video Modeling is a visual teaching method that occurs by watching a video of someone modeling a targeted behavior or skill and then imitating the behavior/skill watched. It is a simple and effective teaching tool that motivates children to learn through a fun and enticing visual medium.When a student will attend to a video (on an iPad/Computer/TV) better than to another person in real life (which is often the case with students who have autism) it is more likely to be successful. An added benefit is that videos allow the student to re-watch certain steps repeatedly.
Social Interaction Opportunities are created by adults to promote use of simple interaction strategies for the students. Typically dyads are used vs. small groups. Providing opportunities for students to do classroom and school based errands, and to create hands-on structured art activities are ways to promote positive peer interactions.
- Child's Age: 6-10, 11-13
- Planning Effort: Moderate
- Difficulty Level: Moderate
Write your own story or edit the attached behavior stories
Become familiar with the Comic Strip Conversation concept-symbols used to represent social interactions and elements of conversation (e.g .choir-when everyone is talking, interrupt, listen, thoughts) and the colors that represent the emotional content of a statement or message.
Access to computer and/or iPad.
Download/Purchase video modeling software and/or app. OR purchase FLIP camera to create your own video models.
- Write your own, or edit the attached Behavior Stories and have someone read them often with the child. (Please see the resource section for additional information on the use of Carol Gray’s Social Story strategy). These are short stories, often illustrated with pictures and text describing different situations and activities that will help children with autism have positive outcomes through gaining a better understanding of what to expect and how to respond in given situations.
- Comic Strip Conversations use symbols to represent social interactions and elements of conversation that individuals with autism may have difficulties with. Additionally, colors are included and represent the emotional content of a statement or message (Carol Gray, Carol Gray Center). Figures are used in the conversations to represent a range of concepts (e.g. choir-when everyone is talking, interrupt, listen, thoughts).
- Comic strip conversations start with “small talk” to get the child familiar with talking while an adult is drawing. You may want to begin with a topic of conversation that is preferred.
- Next, the adult may ask questions about the situation that is causing concern and draw while the child is speaking the answers.
- In the process indicate the possible feelings or ideas of all of the people involved in the scenario to assist the child with autism to better understand the impact that their behavior has on others.
- Before finishing, it is important to go back and summarize the event by discussing it, using the drawings as a guide.
- Creating highly structured interaction opportunities is a simple endeavor. Using errands is the easiest option. Allow 2 peers to collect or pass out school items when cleaning up a project and/or assign 2 peers delivery jobs within the school building. Though simple hands-on projects make take a bit more time, they can be easy and powerful. Develop a simple art activity that requires the peers to cut, glue, paint a project together. These activities can be set-up to promote handing/receiving, requesting. Once completed reinforce the peers for their project and working so well together.
- Develop your own video models or download/purchase video modeling software and/or apps (i.e., Model Me Kids, Special Kids Videos). Set up a consist time throughout the students day for watching videos, priming activities with teacher, and practice of skills observed in videos. Ideally, this practice should occur immediately following watching the videos. Repeat and review.
- As a final note: Many school districts utilize the guidance counselor or social worker to teach small groups structured social skill strategies.
Documents and Related Resources
Carol Gray Center (website resource)
Behavior Stories (website resource)
Don’t Just Act, Interact (website for purchase of resource book)
Playing With My Friends (behavior story for younger children) (Word document)
Talking to Friends (behavior story) (Word document)
Model Me Kids (Website resource for Video Modeling software/app)
Watch Me Learn (website resource)
Amazon – Comic Strip Conversation (retail website resource)
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