This study took place in general education classrooms in 21 high schools from 12 school districts in two states.
To be eligible for the study, students had to meet three criteria: (1) receive special education services under the categories of intellectual disability and autism spectrum disorder or qualify for the state's alternative assessment, (2) be enrolled in at least one general education class (physical education classes did not count toward meeting this criterion), and (3) receive individual support from a paraprofessional or special educator in their general education class.
In the peer support group, the majority (58.8%) were male and European American (66.7%). The remaining race/ethnic categories are: 13.7 percent African American, 7.8% Asian American, 3.9% Native or Alaskan American, and 5.9% other or multiple races. Of the total sample, 27.5 percent were eligible for free or reduced-price meals. Primary or secondary disability categories included Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD; 29.4%), intellectual disability (54.9%), ASD and intellectual disability (13.7%), multiple disabilities (2.0%), and other developmental disabilities (2.0%).
In the comparison group, the majority (68.8%) were male and European American (66.7%). The remaining race/ethnic categories are: 16.7 percent African American, 6.3% Asian American, 2.1% Native or Alaskan American, and 6.3% other or multiple races. Of the total sample, 37.5 percent were eligible for free or reduced-price meals. Primary or secondary disability categories included Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD; 35.4%), intellectual disability (47.9%), ASD and intellectual disability (6.3%), multiple disabilities (2.1%), and other developmental disabilities (8.3%).
Paraprofessionals or special educators recruited, trained, and supported peers to provide individualized academic and social assistance to classmates with severe disabilities within the same general education classroom, as they work together on activities designed for all students by the classroom teacher. Socially, peers model age-appropriate social and communication skills, increase opportunities to contribute to discussions in the classroom, and reduce barriers. Peers can help academically by working alongside their peers with severe disabilities by increasing the amount of individualized supports received, corrective feedback, and response opportunities.
Students in the comparison condition received “business as usual,” which involved receiving individually assigned support from adult paraprofessionals or special educators during ongoing class activities.
Support for implementation
Peers receive an initial training ranging from 15 to 60 minutes, and a written plan that outlines the individualized supports they should provide. They receive ongoing guidance and feedback from paraprofessionals and educators as they assist their classmate.
Facilitators also participate in a 2.5-hour initial training, which covers the goals of the intervention, guidance on how to recruit students to serve as peer partners, how to create peer support plans, how to orient and support the peer partners, guidance on fading direct support of the partners, and the role of the intervention coach.
Coaches pay classroom visits to monitor implementation and provide suggestions, answer questions, encourage use of facilitative strategies, and problem-solve any concerns. Facilitators complete a self-monitoring checklist on a weekly basis, which contains specific strategies for the focus student, peer partners, and facilitators.