According to researchers, peer-mediated education and intervention for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can provide a better and more resilient outcome than adult-led individual child-focused strategies.
The study, published by the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, found that children with ASD who attended regular education classes and are coached by their typically progressing peers, who have been trained on how to interact with peers with ASD, were more likely to improve their social skills, including less time spent alone on playgrounds and more classmates naming them as a friend.
“Real life doesn’t happen in a lab, but few research studies reflect that,” said Thomas R. Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health. “As this study shows, taking into account a person’s typical environment may improve treatment outcomes.”
The most common type of social skills intervention for children with ASD is direct training of a group of children with social challenges, who might have different disorders or be from different classes or schools.
The study, done by Connie Kasari, Ph.D., of the University of California, Los Angeles, and colleagues, compared 60 children, ages 6-11, with ASD using different interventions. The four interventions included: child-focused: direct, one-on-one training between the child with ASD and intervention provider, peer-mediated: group training with the intervention provider for three typically developing children from the same classroom as the student with ASD, both child-focused and peer-mediated interventions or neither interventions. All interventions were given for 20 minutes two times a week for six weeks.
Kasari said, “Anytime we involved typical peers with the children with autism we found out that more children in the classroom nominated that child or selected that child as a friend, played with them on the playground more often, and connected with the child. The other model, where we just had an adult work with a child, wasn’t as effective.”
This study is suggesting that an indirect method of education may yield higher results in social skill development for children with ASD and furthermore that one on one child-focused intervention may only be effective when paired with peer-mediated intervention
A follow-up was conducted 12 weeks after the end of the study showing long- term progress such as increased social connections despite a change of peers or classrooms.
Further studies are needed to explore these factors as well as the effect of other combinations of intervention and education methods.