Definition of the research topic
The most disturbing question for educationists and trainers concerns the mechanisms used in fostering the learning abilities of children with disabilities. While it is evident that educational institutions have developed classes for children with mental disabilities, it is still challenging to enhance learning among such children. Autism is one of the children’s mental conditions that highly reduce their ability to communicate effectively. Different models of learning have been developed as part of the efforts to improve the capacity of learning among children with autism. Peer-tutoring Instructional Method is one of the models of learning that have been developed to enhance the capacity of children with autism to communicate, thereby promoting learning. In this paper, it is argued that the efficiency of the Peer-tutoring Instructional Method as a model of learning is dependent on an array of factors that have to be considered by the trainers.
This research explores the use of Peer-tutoring Instructional Method for increasing the scope of communication for children with autism. Through an exploration of diverse researches, the paper concludes the viability of using the Peer-tutoring Instructional Method for improving the communication and learning capability for autistic children. The paper begins by defining and expounding on Peer-tutoring Instructional Methods and how they are tailored to enhance communication for children with mental and socio-psychological disorders in a learning environment. Under this part, the definition and characteristics of autistic children are brought about and linked to Peer-tutoring Instructional Method. This is followed by an exploration of facts about the use of Peer-tutoring Instructional Method for increasing the communicative abilities of autistic children. This is a comprehensive part that will bring out and answer all the emergent questions in Peer-tutoring Instructional Methods and their possibility of enhancing the communication skills of children who suffer from autism. This part will be strongly founded on research. Thus the arguments brought out in this section will be used to draw a conclusion about the essence and significance of Peer-tutoring Instructional Method for enhancing communication in a learning environment that is comprised of students with mental disabilities.
Peer-tutoring Instructional Method
The development of the Peer-tutoring Instructional Method began with the need to enhance inclusive education as part of the efforts to enhance the rights of children with mental disorders in education. Peer tutoring, when referring to children with autism, implies the use of children with sound learning abilities to foster the communication abilities of the children who are autistic (Whitaker, 2004). The most demanding task in inclusive learning environments has been coming up with modalities of incorporating children with mental disabilities in classrooms with normal children. This is because of the variation that exists in social characteristics between the autistic children and the mentally upright children (Dugan et al., 1995).
It is important to note that peer tutoring falls under peer-mediated social skills and communication learning. The other one is peer modeling. In both cases, there is the use of peer learners to transfer social and communication skills to other learners. Peer-tutoring entails the use of a peer to model a specific course of learning in another peer. The peer gives verbal directions to the learner. In this model of learning, the first peer or learner is the evaluator of the second peer. The performance of the second learner is detected and appraised by the first peer. This is a continuous learning process that can be used to enhance the pace at which children with autism can learn in an inclusive learning environment. The advantage of peer tutoring is that it reduces the space of learning or tutoring since tutoring is decentralized from a single teacher to other learners (Laushey & Heflin, 2000).
Autism is a disorder that arises from complexities in the neural development of infants, which cause impairments that disrupt the normal functioning of the brain of a child. Autism interrupts with the verbal and non-verbal, as well as social interaction abilities of children. The poor development of nerves interferes with the process of information synthesis, thereby resulting in abnormal functioning of the child and demeaning the child’s normal social and communicative ability (Laushey & Heflin, 2000). Autism results in: “repetitive behaviors, difficulties in social interaction, and difficulties in verbal and non-verbal communication” (Kamps et al., p. 284). According to Kamps et al. (1992), children who are autistic depict a set of antisocial and asocial characteristics that reduce their ability to communicate with each other in a learning environment. This backs the research by Harper, Symon, and Frea (2008), who observed that children who are autistic face problems when trying to communicate with their friends and peers.
Autism presents itself through some disorders that are often referred to as autism spectrum disorders. The disorders present themselves in varying degrees. Autism spectrum disorders are comprised of “Rett syndrome, autistic disorder, Asperger syndrome, pervasive development disorder- not otherwise specified, and childhood disintegrative disorder” (Harper, Symon and Frea 2008, p. 820). These disorders are likened to the intellectual disability of the children suffering from the disorders, physical health problems such as sleep, and disturbances in the gastrointestinal functioning of children. Other issues that come with the disorders include problems in coordination and attention, poor visual skills, and poor performance in music, art, and math. Autism begins in the early stages of brain development in children (Whitaker, 2004). However, symptoms of autism spectrum disorders can hardly be realized until the child attains the age of 2 to 3 years. This is one of the most critical challenges of the disease as research shows that early detection can help in limiting the impacts of the disorders. However, early detection of such disorders is still proving to be a daunting task for researchers. This implies that adaptive mechanisms in learning like Peer-tutoring Instruction Method have to be developed to promote the ability of the children with the disorders to communicate and learn (Kamps et al., 1997).
Peer networks and social interaction enhancement in an inclusive learning
Research denotes the validity of social interaction on the improvement of the skills of communication for children with mental deformities. Peer-networks, as applied in peer-tutoring, are founded on attributes of social interaction.
The quest for an environment that is supportive of the learning of children with disabilities has resulted in the development of models of learning. Among these learning models are the development of social learning networks at different levels to accommodate the learning needs of children with mental deformities like autism spectrum disorders (Trembath, Balandin, Togher & Stancliffe, 2009). Peer networks are termed as the most prevalent modalities of increasing the rate and intensity of social interaction between children who are autistic and normal children. While the acquisition of social behaviors is critical to molding the communication abilities of children with autism, research denotes a variation in the rate at which children acquire social behaviors with autism. This seems to be a setback and a factor that spearheads the efforts towards the exploration of peer-mediated approaches in the ideal learning environment (Friedlander, 2009). The settings for the training environments are critical determinants for the level of success that is attained in peer-mediated instructions for students with autism (Jones, 2007).
The level of continuity in peer-mediated programs enhances communication competence for autistic children
A lot of researchers have diverted their efforts into trying to establish how the peer-learning programs can be sustained in a learning environment. This emanates from the fact that such programs have proven to take root in a substantial number of primary or elementary learning environments.
Continuity in peer-training on social and communication skills is a factor that has to be embraced to attain the desired levels of communication competence by the autistic children. The use of peer-networks to advance communication and interactive skills of children with autism are quite elusive. It entails the formulation of multiple networks that are meant to enhance continuity in learning. One of the critical things in fostering the learning abilities of children with autism is to enhance their ability to belong and fit in groups. This does not only increases their ability to learn, but it also increases their level of social interaction and communicative abilities that are critical in an ideal learning environment (Kamps et al., 1997).
Peer-mediated learning works effectively in an inclusive learning environment
While several questions are raised on the impact of inclusive learning environments for children with autism spectrum disorders, research is denoting the worth of molding an inclusive learning environment for children with such disorders. The question that ought to be explored is whether peer-tutoring can be effective in inclusive learning environments.
Laushey and Heflin (2000) ascertained that a substantial number of children with autism are increasingly served in settings that are inclusive in nature. In their research, Laushey and Heflin (2000) tried to establish the level at which the ability of kindergarten children identified with autism could be improved through the deployment of multiple peer tutors for them. Both typical peers and peers who had the same conditions were used in the ideal learning environment under research. In the research, non-adult directed interactions were highly embraced as a way of instilling the virtue of gaining direction and instructions from buddies or peers. From the research, it was concluded that an inclusive learning environment is ideal for the use of peers for enhancing social interaction and communication skills for children with autism.
According to Kalyva and Avramidis (2005), children with autism can best improve their communication and interaction abilities through a ‘circle of friends.’ This is one of the desirable approaches to increase the pace at which the autistic children can catch up with other students in an inclusive environment. This approach was developed as part of the need to foster a learning environment that caters to the needs of all students within a school environment. Circles of friends are small peer interactive groups whose aim is to increase the proximity of the trainers, who are peers with those children who are being trained; in this case, the autistic children. The research by Kalyva and Avramidis (2005) revealed that circles of friends are critical and desirable tools for fostering the acquisition of communication and interactive skills for children with autism. The improvement of the communicative and social interaction skills from the circle of friends makes the autistic children fit for inclusion. The question that ought to be answered is how such groups can be developed and sustained by the trainers (Trembath, Balandin, Togher & Stancliffe, 2009). Peer-tutoring is a strategy that fosters interaction between typical peers and children with autism spectrum disorders (Owen-DeSchryver, Carr, Cale & Blakeley-Smith, 2008).
Harper, Symon, and Frea (2008) observed that peer training programs could be designed in both formal and informal learning situations within an inclusive learning environment in order to promote the communication competence of autistic children. Important social skills can be transferred by peers during informal learning setups like recess. Play environments can be structured in such a way that they can back social interaction among their peers, where autistic children are included. Such learning environments are easy to promote and can also be easily molded to make them more receptive to the social learning needs of children with autism (Bass & Mulick, 2007). The acquisition of social skills rarely occurs naturally for children with autism and can be fostered in diverse learning settings, most of which involve people who spend most of the time with such children; their peers (Kamps et al., 2002). Banda, Hart, and Liu-Gitz (2010) also ascertained the validity of diversifying the peer-tutoring of children with autism as a way of expanding the chances of such children to gain from such learning programs. Center time activities were found to be of significant essence in the improvement of social interaction and adaptability of autistic children to peer groups. This is a justification factor for using peer-tutoring to promote social interaction, which in turn promotes communication. Social interaction and communication are related to and complement each other.
Peer-tutoring is a behavioral tactic of learning that enhances the cognitive behavior of children with autism. This is according to the research by Krebs, McDaniel, and Neeley (2009), who confirmed that target social behaviors for children who are autistic can be attained by incorporating the children in peer-tutoring groups. However, the rate at which social behaviors of the autistic children were shaped varied with the approaches of peer learning methods that are used in peer learning programs.
Challenges of enforcing a peer-tutoring approach
The problem of effective structuring of peer-tutoring programs to capture the diverse needs of autistic children
The observation by Harper, Symon, and Frea (2008) that children who have autism find it hard to communicate with their peers raises a lot of questions on the modalities on which peer-tutoring programs can be structured to attain the goals of such programs. Laushey and Heflin (2000) observed that a lot of heterogeneity is depicted among children who suffer from autism spectrum disorders. Therefore, it becomes quite difficult to use peer trainers to enhance the communication abilities of autistic children, unless cases of such disorders are singled out and given attention on an individual basis. The rationale behind this observation is that the peers, who are used as trainers, only use a given set of behaviors and cannot be in a position to sense and detect the variations in the communication difficulties for autistic children. Again, narrowing down to specific conditions increases the complexity of utilizing peers, as suggested by the peer-tutoring programs. Petursdottir, Mccomas, Mcmaster, and Horner (2007) observed that cases of peer rejection are becoming common in peer-mediated programs. Whether the rejection comes from anomalies in training or developmental aspects of the autistic children is an issue that attracts research. Kamps et al. (2002) argued that it is complex to channel or transfer specific skills by peers, which implies the generalization of skills in most cases by the peer tutors in peer-mediated programs. While varying skills are critical for incremental learning for children with autism, doing that may seem to be complex for the peer tutors in peer-mediated learning situations for autistic children.
Peer-tutoring requires close monitoring, failure of which reduces the level of success
The other difficulty with the implementation of peer-tutoring is the interactive modalities that are used by the peers have to be closely monitored and, if possible, controlled by adults or main trainers, especially in the lower levels of learning like kindergarten. However, Owen-DeSchryver, Carr, Cale, and Blakeley-Smith (2008) found out that the trained peers impact upon the groups of peers who are not trained. This is supported by Jones (2007), who found out that peers acquired more skills from other peers in peer-mediated learning programs. This is encouraging and is a foundation on which a broader peer-learning environment can be promoted in learning inclusive environments. Extensive peer-tutoring has a ripple effect on other straight peers who adapt to components of interaction that are upheld by the trained peers.
The sum of this research reveals that an inclusive learning environment is being embraced as part of encouraging equality in the realms of education. Children with autism spectrum conditions portray a set of disorders that imply difficulties in fostering communication and social interaction in a learning environment. Peer-tutoring, which entails a set of peer-training modalities, comes out as one of the preferable methods through which an inclusive education environment can be promoted. The main challenge in peer-tutoring programs comes from the fact that children with autism seem to foster varied behaviors, thereby making it difficult for peer-trainers to enforce social interaction skills. Future research ought to be directed on how peer-tutoring programs can be structured to minimize the aspect of rejection of peers by the autistic children.
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