Kid To Kid: 5 Considerations For Teaching Peer Communication

One of the most important skills we have is communicating effectively with our peers.  This is the pathway to friendship. It is the means by which we thrive (or survive!) at social gatherings.  It is how we navigate the workplace.  For our students, it can be the difference between playing with peers at recess and sitting alone on the playground bench. Social interaction is part of succeeding and engaging in school and life.

If we are to teach children to grow in peer communication, we must do it well.  It will be one of the most important skills they ever learn. Consider these five (brief) points for laying a solid foundation for the children with whom you work:

 1. Never assume.  Children with social learning difficulties often don’t make sense of social interaction like typical children do.  This means that every step needs to be taught and explained.  Never assume that they see it like we do.  Never assume that they understand why greetings are important or that they know not to interrupt another peer when they start talking.  Social interaction is a part of living that does not come naturally to children with autism so we need to help them develop a new category for connecting with others.

This social narrative teaches children how to greet their peers every step of the way. Great for Pre-K through early elementary. Can also be shown on smart boards for large group teaching.

2. Break it down.  Every social interaction is comprised of many individual steps.  Always strive to reduce peer interaction down into these small steps in order to increase understanding and keep things manageable.  Be patient.  Your student may be learning to greet others for a long time before he or she is ready to tackle simple conversation starters.

3. Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse.  Much practice is required here. And just because a student does something once, does not mean that he or she has fully learned it and will always have it. As you likely have seen, students with autism can have days where they are quite “on,” demonstrating skills quite well.  Other days, however, can seem like they never had the skill at all.  The more teaching and practice the student has, the more he/she will gain the skills towards sustained application.

4. Use actual peers. All the time.  Using social narratives, visuals and other teaching tools are helpful only so far as they are used in conjunction with real peer interaction.  As you teach social interaction skills, have typical peers involved to practice with your students.  Even better, have the typical peers teach your students and role-play.  There is nothing like the power of positive peer influence.  This also allows for natural learning and practice to take place outside of your classroom or office.  Peers who work with your students can continue to interact with them in other settings throughout the day, increasing generalized learning.

Save ink with this Simply Social Narratives resource.  Appeals to a wide range of ages and includes interactive templates.

5. Keep it visual.   As you provide and build an understanding of social interaction with your students, keep a clear, visual record for them. Social narratives and talk/thought bubble conversation templates are a couple of strategies you can use.  Also, keep these materials interactive by having the student fill in greeting and conversation ideas.  Be sure to send a copy of these materials home in order to provide parents an opportunity to practice and review social interaction skills with their child.

Shown throughout this post are resources I have created to help children grow in these essential skills.  These can be used individually with students, with small groups, or as smart board presentations for a whole class.  They also serve as helpful resources to send home to parents so parents can support their child’s social learning.

For children who identify with this well-known theme, this narrative walks children through all steps of peer communication from greeting through conversation starters and follow-up questions. Includes interactive templates.




Spotlight Strategy: Social Narratives (Part 1)

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I have found that many parents and educators use social narratives more than any other strategy for social understanding. This is not surprising, as these narratives provide vital explanations of the social world for individuals who lack natural understanding in this area. Social narratives help people navigate the murky waters of the world around them.

Social Narratives communicate social and behavioral expectations through written means. They may also highlight the perspectives, feelings, and intentions of those involved in a social situation. The narratives often provide examples of social overtures and problem-solving in order to increase the learner’s understanding of appropriate responses in a particular situation. They can provide insight into a common social norm (e.g., personal space), or a highly individualized event (e.g., describing how an unexpected schedule change has occurred and everything will be OK). Think of social narratives as instruction manuals that provide codes for understanding the complexities of the social environment.

A social narrative outlining steps to talking with a peer.
An excerpt from a social narrative describing how to talk to a peer. Simple illustrations can be helpful for younger students. Click the image to preview the full narrative.

Social narratives can be easily and quickly written and can provide helpful clarification on any number of issues. They can be as short as one sentence (“Kids become upset and scared when I growl at them…”) or they can be more in-depth and comprised of multiple pages (see examples here or click on the image below).

An excerpt from a social narrative on asking for help. Click on the image to preview the full narrative.
An excerpt from a social narrative on asking for help. This narrative uses a popular medium of exchange.  Click on the image to preview the full narrative.

Are social narratives only to be used for children with autism or related disabilities?  Certainly not!  I have written social narratives for many children (including my own).  Think of social narratives as mini lessons on any given topic.  It is a teaching tool.  Children with social learning challenges need the narratives more frequently, but all students can benefit from them, given the wide range of social/emotional understanding among children.

This social narrative increases predictability in order to reduce anxiety when something new happens.

Social narratives are to be presented to children in a proactive, teaching manner on a regular basis, just like other academic content is taught. They are designed for use in the classroom, in the home, or anywhere else a learning opportunity might present itself.  They are not merely a tool to use after a child has made a mistake, as I have often seen.  As with anything, teach the skill regularly if you want children to learn.

This relates to a broader issue, namely that social understanding is generally not taught like other academic content is taught. Some skills for social understanding may be addressed in general education classrooms on occasion (particularly in early elementary grades), but largely, there is an assumption that social understanding is naturally acquired as children grow. While this may be true for many children, I have found that adults often overestimate how much children understand socially, and underestimate the amount of intentional teaching that needs to be done. Parents and educators will serve children well to support social learning through the use of strategies such as social narratives.

(Click here and here to peruse or purchase social narratives that I have created and used with students).