Peer group for special needs
This year I find I need to rethink the way I do my social pragmatic group. This year several things have made it difficult to form the group. The last 4 years I was able to form the group with five to eight students across two grade levels who had language processing issues or autism and had social issues as a result. Most of the group could follow instructions with a bit of modeling. This year the scheduling of the core academics has kept me from taking students across more than one grade level and I don’t have a core group. I have two students who attend general education and are severely impacted socially. They really need roles models but i don’t have other students with language processing issues to make a large group. These two will be going to middle school after this year so staff are really concerned.
Our Autism specialist brought up a program that she thought might work called “Circle of Friends“. It has been used on the West coast and in a few schools in the Portland area. Basically a club is formed from a peer group. The peer group is mentored and gets instruction from the speech therapist, counselor, or other special education staff. The group members then plan activities for the group that everyone can participate in and be included. This group then becomes a way that special needs children can get social experiences from a peer group that is socially supportive. It can even move with the children as they progress through the grades.
This is conference week at my school so we are beginning the first phase. Our plan is to set up a lunch bunch of five to six students that will meet once a week. We will get permission from parents this week so that students can participate. This bunch will receive some training and do some bonding. We will then introduce one of the students and see where we go from there.
Our school is the site for the Life skills Program and we have more children with special needs as a result. The children remain fairly separated even though they are in the same building. Because most of our extra programs such as music, physical education, and library have been lost to budget cuts, there are few opportunities for them to be included. It is getting harder for them to have opportunities to participate with their peer group. As with anything these days, it is difficult to find time but hopefully this program will have a general effect on our whole school atmosphere.
I’m hoping to record our progress with this program. If anyone has used this program or something similar, I would love to hear from you. Did it go well?