Peer networks studied as learning boost for kids with ASD

Working in small groups with typically developing peers can help young children with autism improve not only their social skills but their academic abilities as well.

That’s the hypothesis of a four-year project headed by Debra Kamps, senior scientist and director of K-CART. She, along with colleague Ilene Schwartz, chair and professor of special education at the University of Washington, are studying young children in 35 schools in Kansas and Washington to see the effect of peer networks on improving social-communication skills, literacy skills and the ability to work in small groups.

The Peer Networks Project, funded by the Institute of Education Sciences, will involve 32 children with autism and 158 peers in social networks. Thirty-nine peers are enrolled in reading networks with the same students.

According to Kamps, core features of ASD in children include problems learning basic social and communication skills, a gap that widens over time. That’s why she and her research team teaching what she calls “necessary survival skills” as children begin kindergarten and first grade.   

The randomized four-year trial will evaluate if and how to teach and sustain generalized learning and social skills necessary for the successful participation of children with ASD in typical school settings.  Eight school districts, 35 schools across two sites and 55 teachers are participating.

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