Thursday, March 29, 2018

Peer partners help students with autism join playground fun

Evan stands close to a teacher who is supervising recess while the other children play. Sometimes Evan paces back and forth, flaps his hands and recites lines from the television show “SpongeBob SquarePants” to himself. Other times, he pretends that he is a ninja fighting an imaginary adversary, or repeatedly asks the teacher when it will be time to go back inside. (I have left out Evan’s last name to protect his privacy.)
Occasionally he stops to look around at his peers, who are playing soccer, chatting, swinging, shooting baskets or chasing each other on the playground. A 10-year-old with autism, he simply does not know how to approach or interact with his peers. To him, it seems like all of them naturally know how to talk and play with one another.
Evan feels much more comfortable in the classroom, where there is explicit structure and clear expectations. By contrast, recess is an unstructured jungle where Evan is not quite sure what he should be doing.
Evan’s peers would never suspect that, if asked, he would tell them how much he really wants to play with them. Sometimes they look over at Evan and seem puzzled and confused by his behavior. No one is unkind to Evan, because no one interacts with him at all. Perplexed about why he would choose to play by himself and stand by the teacher, they keep their distance.
The teacher who supervises recess is sad that Evan stands close to her and plays by himself instead of with his peers. She wishes that he had the skills to join his peers, and that his peers would include him in their play.
Many students with autism struggle to play with their peers in unstructured situations or to develop friendships with children who do not have disabilities1. Although teachers are often sympathetic to these challenges, they rarely feel empowered to help.

Peer support:

My colleagues and I are tackling this problem by developing strategies for supporting students with autism during recess.

Read the full article at Spectrum for some good ideas.