A Guide for Developing Social Skills in Students with Disabilities

Students helping other students learn has been proven to boost academic achievement and social skills in students with and without disabilities. A new book by Vanderbilt University researchers, Peer Support Strategies for Improving All Students’ Social Lives and Learning, based on over 20 years of research in the field, offers teachers practical guidelines for implementing these peer support strategies in the classroom.

“We have found that the best programs emphasize similarities, not differences, between students with disabilities and those without,” Craig Kennedy, professor of special education at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College of education and human development and a co-author of the new book, said in a news release. “For the kids with disabilities, their non-disabled peer is a role model, academically, behaviorally and socially. And for the peer helper, they learn to see these students as individuals and friends, not just as ‘that disabled kid.’”

The purpose of the new book is to translate research Kennedy and his co-authors, Erik W. Carter and Lisa S. Cushing, have undertaken over the last 20 years in classrooms across the country into a step-by-step guide that teachers can use to structure and implement peer support programs.

The book provides detailed guidelines for identifying students most likely to benefit from having or being a peer support; recruiting participants; developing plans that promote access to the general curriculum for students with disabilities; aligning peer support goals and programs with state and federal standards; providing training for students, teachers and staff; extending peer support outside of the classroom to social and extracurricular events; and evaluating the effectiveness of the programs within a school.

“A research project we published in 1994 was the first to use other students, rather than a paraprofessional, to work with students with disabilities in a general education classroom,” Kennedy said. “We found that this peer support greatly facilitated the students with disabilities inclusion in the classroom. The students with disabilities met more people, made more friends and also benefited from peer instruction on classroom material.”

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