Saturday, 5 December 2015

Kids need other kids (for social communication skills)

A quick post today bringing the findings from Angela Barber and colleagues [1] to your attention and the idea that both young children diagnosed with autism and young children not diagnosed with autism might similarly benefit from peer mediated intervention (PMI). PMI basically means that peers are active agents in the instruction of one or more skills (see here for further information).

For the Barber study, 3 pairs of pre-school children (one diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder and one not) were brought together. The child not diagnosed with autism was taught a specific PMI - "the Stay, Play, Talk PMI" - which as the name suggests involves being instructed to "Stay with their friend, Play with their friend, and Talk to their friend." For two 20 minute sessions over 6-8 weeks features of social communication were monitored.

Researchers reported that all children - those with autism and this without - seemed to benefit from this type of approach in terms of social responsiveness. That being said, social initiations were described as "variable across dyads" and when examined 2-months post-interventions were are told that gains "were not maintained."

You might have read that last paragraph and thought 'what's the point' given that gains were not maintained and important things like social initiations did not seem to be uniformly affected by peer involvement. I don't share that view given a few important points: (1) in a real-world setting, peers (generally also known as friends!) don't just interact in two 20 minute sessions for 6-8 weeks, it's more of an on-going thing, and (2) other studies of PMI have come up with slightly more favourable and generalisable results [2] with the need for quite a bit more study. Indeed, in these days of searching for ever more cost-effective strategies for screening and intervention with autism in mind (see here), I'd be minded to suggest that peers (including siblings) represent valuable partners who might also benefit from the whole PMI process too...


[1] Barber AB. et al. Peers as clinicians: Examining the impact of Stay Play Talk on social communication in young preschoolers with autism. J Commun Disord. 2015 Aug 7;59:1-15.

[2] Katz E. & Girolametto L. Peer-mediated intervention for pre-schoolers with ASD: Effects on responses and initiations. Int J Speech Lang Pathol. 2015 Apr 17:1-12.

--------- Barber AB, Saffo RW, Gilpin AT, Craft LD, & Goldstein H (2015). Peers as clinicians: Examining the impact of Stay Play Talk on social communication in young preschoolers with autism. Journal of communication disorders, 59, 1-15 PMID: 26606507