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Peer-Mediation Programs Possible Answer for Autistic Students in Rural Schools

Peer-mediation instruction and intervention programs could be a good option for rural schools that want to address the communication and social needs of their autistic students.

A new paper, "Power-PALS (Peers Assisting, Leading, Supporting): Implementing A Peer-Mediated Intervention in a Rural Middle School Program," recently published in the Rural Special Education Quarterly highlighted one rural district's program as a "promising practice."

The paper's authors made it clear that they had little quantitative data, but they said the qualitative feedback from students, teachers, and parents showed this effort was worthwhile and beneficial to students with and without autism.

They didn't name the middle school where they did their study, but they said it was in rural, northeastern Wisconsin. The district has three schools on the same campus with less than 1,000 total students, and the school selected was one of the state's model sites for the National Professional Development Center on Autism Spectrum Disorders.

Teaching staff, supported by the national center, implemented a peer-mediation program with four autistic students and 18 of their peers for a semester. The students without autism were taught how to support their classmates' social skills both inside and outside of classrooms, and the group divided into teams and met weekly.

The program was so successful that it expanded to more middle school students and to the nearby elementary and high schools. One of the study's authors described it as "the most rewarding program that I have participated in thus far in my career. I have seen lives changed in so many positive ways for students in need of peer relationships."

The paper noted rural schools face challenges such as high poverty, a high percentage of students in special education, and higher program costs, and it cited this as "an excellent example of effective and relevant action research that addresses many of these challenges."

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