I thought I would add a post for those people looking for the 7th Circle of Friends Session and not finding it. Friday was a training day in my school district so we were unable to meet. We will resume next Friday and I will make some updates then.
I did go to an interesting training session given by Kathy Thiemann-Borque, PHD, CCC-SLP on Addressing Social Communication Challenges of Children with Autism, Peer-Mediated Interventions in Preschool and Elementary School. It was based on her studies with Juniper Gardens Children’s Project, University of Kansas. The study validated that training peers to interact with students who have communication delays, and then arranging interactions during an activity using the trained students with disabled students who also received training resulted in the most progress. Adults may initially need to be present to facilitate the interaction but could eventually step back. This allowed for natural communication interactions with peers even if PECs or voice output devices were used. During the baseline, the students, some using PECS or Voice Output, attempted to communicate mainly with adults in the room and minimally with peers.
The “Circle of Friends” is set up with this same premise. However it is geared more to middle and high school students. This study demonstrated how peers could be used in preschool and elementary environments by training them to use specific prompts. Peers were trained to stay, play , and talk. Peers often had more influence than adults in directing behaviors.
Although this model is being validated it is often hard to implement. As the academic demands increase for students and teachers there is less time left to arrange social interactions. General education peers are not as available for training if it takes away from academic time. Permission needs to be obtained from the parents of the peer group because they are usually joining what is considered a special education environment.
It often takes the experience of an initial group to make people realize that it can reflect positively to the whole elementary environment. It allows students to interact appropriately with disabled peers rather than taking on a caretaker role. The disabled students are seen as communicators with increased expectations. It tends to decrease bullying as students are more impowered to step up and help if a student is getting singled out.
I would recommend going to this training if Kathy Thiemann-Bourque, PhD, CCC-SLP comes to your part of the country. I would be interested in hearing from any of you who have attempted to form a similar group.