Recess is Time-in: Using Peers to Improve Social Skills of Children with Autism

  • Christena Blauvelt Harper
  • Jennifer B. G. SymonEmail author
  • William D. Frea
Original Paper


Children with autism face enormous struggles when attempting to interact with their typically developing peers. More children are educated in integrated settings; however, play skills usually need to be explicitly taught, and play environments must be carefully prepared to support effective social interactions. This study incorporated the motivational techniques of Pivotal Response Training through peer-mediated practice to improve social interactions for children with autism during recess activities. A multiple baseline design across subjects was used to assess social skills gains in two elementary school children. The results demonstrated an increase in important social skills, namely social initiations and turn taking, during recess.


Autism Peer-mediated strategies Inclusion Social skills School intervention Peer interactions Pivotal Response Training Initiations 



The authors wish to thank the school, teachers, children and their families for their participation in this study. We are grateful for your dedication to improve the lives of all children at school. This article is based on a thesis completed by the first author for the degree of Master of Arts in Special Education with an emphasis in Autism at California State University, Los Angeles.


  1. Attwood, T. (1998). Asperger’s Syndrome: A guide for parents and professionals. Great Britain: Athenaeum.Google Scholar
  2. Baker, M. J., Koegel, R. L., & Koegel, L. K., (1998). Increasing the social behavior of young children with autism using their obsessive behaviors. Journal of the Association for Persons with Severe Handicaps, 23(4), 300–308.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Brown, J., & Murray, D. (2001). Strategies for enhancing play skills for children with autism spectrum disorder. Education and Training in Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities, 36(3), 312–317.Google Scholar
  4. Brown, W., & Odom, S. L. (1995). Naturalistic peer interventions for promoting preschool children’s social interactions. Preventing School Failure, 39(4), 38–43.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Brown, W. H., Odom, S. L., & Conroy, M. A. (2001). An intervention hierarchy for promoting young children's peer interactions in natural environments. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education, 21(3), 162–175.Google Scholar
  6. Carr, E. G., Dunlap, G., Horner, R. H., Koegel, R. L., Turnbull, A. P., Sailor, W., Anderson, J. L., Albin, R. W., Koegel, L. K., & Fox, L. (2002). Positive behavior support: Evolution of an applied science. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 4(1), 4–16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. DiSalvo, C., & Oswald, D. (2002). Peer-mediated interventions to increase social interaction of children with autism: Consideration of peer expectancies. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 17(4), 198–207.Google Scholar
  8. Frea, W., Craig-Unkefer, L., Odom, S. L., & Johnson, D. (1999). Differential effects of structured social integration and group friendship activities for promoting social interactions with peers. Journal of Early Intervention, 22(3), 230–242.Google Scholar
  9. Fredeen, R. M., & Koegel, R. L. (2006). The pivotal role of initiations in habilitation. In R. L. Koegel & L. K. Koegel (Eds.), Pivotal response treatments for autism: Communication, social, and academic development (pp. 165–186). Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.Google Scholar
  10. Garfinkle, A., & Schwartz, I. (2002). Peer imitation: Increasing social interactions in children with autism and other developmental disabilities in inclusive preschool classrooms. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education, 22(1), 26–38.Google Scholar
  11. Giangreco, M. F., Edelman, S. W., Luiselli, T. E., & MacFarland, S. Z. C. (1997). Heping or Hovering? Effects of instructional assistant proximity on students with disabilities. Exceptional Children, 64(1), 7–18.Google Scholar
  12. Goldstein, H., Kaczmarek, L., Pennington, R., & Shafer, K. (1992). Peer-mediated intervention: Attending to, commenting on, and acknowledging the behavior of preschoolers with autism. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 25(2), 289–305.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Gonzalez-Lopez, A., & Kamps, D. (1997). Social skills training to increase social interactions between children with autism and their typical peers. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 12(1), 2–14.Google Scholar
  14. Gresham, F. M., (1984). Social skills and self-efficacy for exceptional children. Exceptional Children, 51, 253–261.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. Guralnick, M. J. (1990). Social competence and early intervention. Journal of Early Intervention, 14(1), 3–14.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Hurley-Geffner, C. M., (1995). Friendships between children with and without developmental disabilities. In R. L. Koegel & L. K. Koegel (Eds.), Teaching children with autism: Strategies for initiating positive interactions and improving learning opportunities (pp. 105–125). Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes Publishing.Google Scholar
  17. Ingersoll, B., Schreibman, L., & Stahmer, A. (2001). Brief report: Differential treatment outcomes for children with Autistic Spectrum Disorder based on level of peer social avoidance. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 31(3), 343–349.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Kamps, D., Royer, J., Dugan, E., Kravits, T., Gonzalez-Lopez, A., Garcia, J., Carnazzo, K., Morrison, L., & Kane, L. G. (2002). Peer training to facilitate social interactions for elementary students with autism and their peers. Exceptional Children, 68(2), 173–187.Google Scholar
  19. Kennedy, C. H., Cushing, L., & Itkonen, T. (1997). General education participation improves social contacts and friendship networks of students with severe disabilities. Journal of Behavior Education, 7(2), 167–189.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Kennedy, C. H., & Itkonen, T. (1996). Social relationships, influential variables, and change across the life span. In L. K. Koegel, R. L. Koegel, & G. Dunlap (Eds.), Positive behavioral support: Including people with difficult behavior in the community (pp. 287–304). Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes.Google Scholar
  21. Koegel, R. L., Klein, E. F., Koegel, L. K., Boettcher, M. A., Brookman-Frazee, L., & Openden, D. (2006). Working with paraprofessionals to improve socialization in inclusive settings. In R. L. Koegel & L. K. Koegel (Eds.) Pivotal response treatments for autism: Communication, social, and academic development (pp. 189–198). Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.Google Scholar
  22. Koegel, L. K., Koegel, R. L., Frea, W. D., & Fredeen, R. M. (2001). Identifying early intervention targets for children with autism in inclusive school settings. Behavior Modification, 25, 745–761.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Koegel, L. K., Koegel, R. L., Shoshan, Y., & Mcnerney, E. M. (1999). Pivotal response intervention II: Preliminary long-term outcomes data. Journal of the Association for Persons with Severe Handicaps, 24(3), 186–198.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Koegel, R. L., Openden, D., Fredeen, R. M., & Koegel, L. K. (2006). The basics of pivotal reponse treatment. In R. L. Koegel & L. K. Koegel (Eds.), Pivotal response treatments for autism: Communication, social, and academic development (pp. 3–30). Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.Google Scholar
  25. Koegel, R. L., Schreibman, L., Good, A., Cerniglia, L., Murphy, C., & Koegel, L. K. (1989). How to teach pivotal behaviors to children with autism: A training manual. Santa Barbara: University of California.Google Scholar
  26. Kohler, F. W., Strain, P. S., & Goldstein, H. (2005). Learning Experiences . . . An alternative program for preschools and parents: Peer-mediated interventions for young children with autism. In E. D. Hibbs & P. S. Jensen (Eds.), Psychosocial treatments for child and adolescent disorders: Empirically based strategies for clinical practice (2nd ed., pp. 659–687). Washington DC: American Psychological Association.Google Scholar
  27. Laushey, K., & Heflin, J. (2000). Enhancing social skills of kindergarten children with autism through the training of multiple peers as tutors. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 30(3), 183–193.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Lewis, V., & Boucher, J. (1995). Generativity in the play of young people with autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 25(2), 105–121.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Libby, S., Powell, S., Messer, D., & Jordan, R. (1998). Spontaneous play in children with autism: A reappraisal. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 28(6), 487–497.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. McEvoy, M. A., Odom, S. L., & McConnell, S. R. (1992). Peer social competence intervention for young children with disabilities. In S. L. Odom, S. R. McConnell, & M. A. McEvoy (Eds.), Social competence of young children with disabilities: Issues and strategies for intervention (pp. 113–134). Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.Google Scholar
  31. Oke, N. J., & Schreibman, L. (1990). Training social initiations to a high-functioning autistic child: Assessment of collateral behavior change and generalization in a case study. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 20(4), 479–497.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Peeters, T. (1997). Autism: From theoretical understanding to educational intervention. San Diego: Singular Publishing Group.Google Scholar
  33. Pierce, K., & Schreibman, L. (1995). Increasing complex social behaviors in children with autism: Effects of peer-implemented pivotal response training. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 28(3), 285–295.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Pierce, K., & Schreibman, L. (1997a). Using peer trainers to promote social behavior in autism: Are they effective at enhancing multiple social modalities? Focus on Autism & Other Developmental Disabilities, 12(4), 207–218.Google Scholar
  35. Pierce, K., & Schreibman, L. (1997b). Multiple peer use of pivotal response training to increase social behaviors of classmates with autism: Results from trained and untrained peers. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 30(1), 157–160.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Rogers, S. (2000). Interventions that facilitate socialization in children with autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 30(5), 399–409.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Rogers, S. J., & Lewis, H. (1989). An effective day treatment model for children with pervasive developmental disorders. Journal of American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 28(2), 207–214.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Stahmer, A. (1995). Teaching symbolic play skills to children with autism using pivotal response training. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 25(2), 123–141.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Stone, W., Lemanek, K., Fishel, P., Fernandez, M., & Altemeier, W. (1990). Play imitation skills in the diagnosis of autism in young children. Pediatrics, 86(2), 267–272.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  40. Strain, P. S., & Fox, J. J. (1981). Peers as behavior change agents for withdrawn classmates. In B. B. Lahey & A. E. Kazdin (Eds.), Advances in clinical child psychology (pp. 167–198). New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  41. Strain, P. S., Kerr, M. M., & Ragland, E. U. (1981). The use of peer social initiations in the treatment of social withdrawal. In P. S. Strain (Ed.), The utilization of classroom peers as behavior change agents (pp. 101–128). New York: Plenum Press.Google Scholar
  42. Strain, P. S., & Kohler, F. (1998). Peer-mediated social intervention for young children with autism. Seminars in Speech and Language, 19(4), 391–405.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  43. Terpstra, J., Higgins, K., & Pierce, T. (2002). Can I play? Classroom-based interventions for teaching play skills to children with autism. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 17(2), 119–126.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Veale, T. (1998). May I have your attention please? Language and learning lessons from one child with autism. Unpublished doctoral dissertation. University of Cincinnati.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Christena Blauvelt Harper
    • 1
  • Jennifer B. G. Symon
    • 2
    Email author
  • William D. Frea
    • 3
  1. 1.Garden Grove Unified School District in Orange CountyCalifornia State UniversityLos AngelesUSA
  2. 2.CSULA Division of Special Education and CounselingCalifornia State UniversityLos AngelesUSA
  3. 3.Autism Spectrum TherapiesLos AngelesUSA

Personalised recommendations