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Using Peer Tutoring to Facilitate Learning in Children with Autism

by Dena H. Friedman

A doctoral candidate at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA, has been studying how peer tutoring can improve the writing and social skills of children with autism and other developmental disorders. Siddiq Ahmed, whose work focuses on students with developmental disabilities and positive behavior support, trains classmates to evaluate their fellow pupils’ papers.

Students with ASD are then given a writing assignment, which is critiqued by their peers.  The level of success of the interaction follows. Ahmed developed a system to measure improvement by assessing students’ work before and after the peer tutoring session.

Ashley Zehner, another doctoral candidate in the Duquesne School of Education, whose work concentrates on special education with a focus in behavior and autism, says, ‘“peer tutoring offers opportunities for students to exercise and develop many different skills.”’

​Peer tutoring helps students understand and build upon each other’s strengths and weaknesses and teaches mutual acceptance and respect.  ‘“One of the main benefits is that you have a student who is typically developing and is succeeding in an area where another student may not be,”’ Zehner said. “You’re having them work together, and you can look at [the benefits] from many different aspects, such as bullying. Instead of putting someone down, they’re working with them to lift them up.” Additional reciprocal benefits of peer tutoring are visible in the social, interpersonal, and intrapersonal aspects of development, which boost a student’s personal growth and progress.

​Because students with special needs learn differently than other classmates, having peer tutors in the classroom may lessen the burden of teachers who may be insufficiently equipped and/or trained to handle the individual learning requirements of an increasing number of children with ASD.

​Further research in this area will hopefully enable these children to thrive after they graduate.

“’[Students with special needs] need more attention, more intervention, to be independent in the future,” Ahmed said. “There are many success stories of individuals with autism … and they were successful. They became professors, they became engineers … I think intervention played a critical role with them.”’

Source: The Duquesne Duke, 1/11/18

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