Mainstreaming Autistic Success

Autism spectrum disorder students

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Think about your last misunderstanding and the "a-ha" moment felt when enlightenment occured.  Could this type of realization regarding mental health disorders change children's perspectives? 

According to recent studies, training to the peers of autistic students may provide greater social benefits than socialization training for children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health funded a study promoting a shift away from traditional interventions to those focusing on developing understanding among the general population of children.

"Take the steps to bring autism counseling to your school."

Typically, autism social skills interventions involve direct training of children with social challenges, not limited to ASD. These occur at clinics and occasionally at schools, with the option of one-on-one counseling. Peer training interventions take place less frequently, and focus on training classmates of socially underdeveloped youth to understand the reality of the situation and show tremendous results.

Both treatments showed previous success within the lab, though were yet to make it into a community setting. Thomas R. Insel, the director of the National Institute of Mental Health, notes regarding their study, "real life doesn't happen in a lab, but few research studies reflect that. As this study shows, taking into account a person's typical environment may improve treatment conditions."

The study, published in The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, compares two interventions within 56 classrooms and 30 schools. The two interventions were crossed to yield a control, peer-mediated (PEER), child-associated approach (CHILD), and both PEER and CHILD groups. Interventions involved twelve sessions administered over six weeks with a three-month follow-up, all involving self, peer, and teacher social skills feedback. Sixty children participated.

All ASD children whose peers received training spent less time alone on playgrounds and were deemed a "friend" by more classmates. Reports from teachers also highlighted significantly better social skills among peer-trained ASD students.

At a three-month follow-up, despite a typical change in classroom and classmates, peer-trained ASD kids continued to outshine students receiving only CHILD intervention or no intervention at all. The findings indicate peer-interventions provide outcomes that remain more persistent than child-focused strategies.

Lead-author of the study, Connie Kasari, Ph.D., and colleagues note, "these data suggest that significant improvements can be made in peer social connections for children with autism spectrum disorder in general education classrooms with a brief intervention, and that these gains persist over time."

Speak with health practitioners and school counselors about autism training for schools in your area.  

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
November 29, 2011
Last Updated:
November 30, 2011