With ‘Schools Autism Awareness Week’ taking place this week and ‘World Autism Awareness Week’ fast approaching, it is an ideal time to reflect on how raising awareness of Autism Spectrum Conditions (ASC) can be introduced within mainstream schools.
Statistics show that children with ASC are more likely to experience social rejection and bullying than their mainstream peers and children with other Special Educational Needs. The Reciprocal Effects Peer Interaction Model (Humphrey & Symes, 2011) highlights the importance of developing peer understanding alongside teaching pupils with ASC social skills to promote social inclusion.
Recent studies show the positive outcomes of promoting understanding of ASC within the peer group. Some researchers within the field state that providing information to peers about a pupils’ needs will help peers understand that the pupil’s behaviours/difficulties lie outside of their control and may support them to be more positive in including them. Additionally interventions such as ‘Circle of Friends’ that include opportunities for peers to problem solve strategies for social inclusion with the pupil with ASC have shown positive outcomes.
This year the National Autistic Society has launched a big campaign to promote awareness raising of ASC and has produced assembly and lesson materials for primary and secondary schools. Although awareness strategies are important in promoting positive peer attitudes, research also shows that teaching peers’ key skills to enable them to interact successfully with pupils with ASC alongside awareness raising strategies are needed. The ‘Saturation Model’ (Morewood, Humphrey & Symes, 2011) is a good example of how whole school awareness raising activities can be supplemented by more formalised peer support strategies in the context of a mainstream secondary school.
The current author has developed a peer support intervention for use in mainstream primary schools, which aims to raise awareness of ASC and teach peers key skills to interact with pupils with ASC. The initial piloting of this intervention has shown promising outcomes and was well received by school staff. It is hoped that this model of intervention will be piloted again in the near future.
When introducing peer support interventions it is important to plan collaboratively with pupils, parents and staff so that the intervention is individualised and issues such as pupils’ awareness of their own diagnosis, parents’ views and staff awareness of ASC can be managed sensitively.
Please contact Nadia for further information about the project.
Humphrey, N., & Symes, W. (2011). Peer interaction patterns among adolescents with autistic spectrum disorders (ASDs) in mainstream school settings. Autism, 15 (4), 397-419.
Morewood, G.D., Humphrey, N., & Symes, W. (2011). Mainstreaming autism: making it work. Good Autism Practice, 12 (2), 62-68.