What if there were a 15-minute peer-mediated intervention for toddlers and preschoolers with autism? What if we told you that same intervention required minimal training for teachers and no training for peers? Intrigued yet?
This study found that children with autism between 29 and 78 months old initiated significantly more social interactions with peers during the “Buddy Game” than they did during unstructured play during recess. What’s more, these improvements carried over to a generalization free-play time following the intervention.
So, what is the “Buddy Game”? Children with autism were randomly paired with typically developing peers. Teachers led dyads in singing songs together for 15 minutes, incorporating gestures and movements during the daily structured intervention on the integrated preschool playground. The intervention includes activities that naturally occur in preschool settings—singing songs like “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes” and “Wheels on the Bus” embedded within a natural context: recess.
Keep in mind some limitations of the study: the sample size was small (10), and there were possible issues with baseline data, given that children were transitioning classrooms and/or schools around the time of the intervention.
This study helps us reconsider structuring recess or other “free play” time during the preschool academic day. It could be a win-win if by structuring 15 minutes of recess and using incidental teaching, kids with autism are exposed to a variety of peers and have increased opportunities for social initiations, both during and after the intervention.
Morrier, M. J., & Ziegler, S. M. (2018). I Wanna Play Too: Factors Related to Changes in Social Behavior for Children With and Without Autism Spectrum Disorder After Implementation of a Structured Outdoor Play Curriculum. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. Advance online publication. doi:10.1007/s10803-018-3523-z