Training peers to support AAC in preschool learners

For your students who are in their first year or first few years of AAC, who are their communication partners? Are they all adults (uh-oh!), or have you also been building intervention activities around communication with peers?

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In this study, seven typically-developing preschool-aged peers are trained in how to use PECS (The Picture Exchange Communication System) to communicate with four minimally-verbal children with autism. The children with autism had each been using PECS for under a year, with adult partners.
Peer training consisted of four 30–45 minute training sessions, during which peers were taught skills such as how to stay near and interact with their friend with ASD, and how to “Take–Say–Give” with PECS icons. The authors provide supplemental materials to describe exactly what was included in training.
Post-training, the peers joined their friends with autism for 10–15 minute blocks of time, once or twice per day, for approximately two days per week (peers rotating). Nine to 25 of these sessions occurred over a two- to four-month period. Children interacted freely during the sessions, and were lightly prompted by the clinician when 30 seconds passed without interaction.
Results indicated improvement in the children with autism’s communication to peers, with most communicative acts being requesting. The children showed individual differences in which context or setting (e.g. snack time) elicited the most communication. More research will help tease out how to train additional communicative functions, promote generalization, and determine exactly how much peer training is required. The authors predict that showing children with ASD how to use AAC in natural contexts, “may lead to greater motivational and observational learning or a desire to engage with and imitate peers.”

Thiemann-Bourque, K., Brady, N., McGuff, S., Stump, K., & Naylor, A. (2016). Picture Exchange Communication System and Pals: A Peer-Mediated Augmentative and Alternative Communication Intervention for Minimally Verbal Preschoolers With Autism. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research. doi: 10.1044/2016_JSLHR-L-15-0313