Buddy system or peer mentor

Finding a buddy or a peer mentor for a child or young person with autism possibly in the same year group or older, may help increase their confidence.

With collaborative parent/teacher relationship, where careful observations have been carried out, a child with autism can be prepared to work on a one-to-one basis with one of their peers. Both parties, child with autism and the typically developing peer, need to be sufficiently prepared to engage in this relationship, initially. Then, as parents and educators, we have to step back to see if we have planned and selected correctly, if not, we may need to be able to step in quickly.  Sperry et al. (2010) indicate that there are several traits that qualify a student as a good peer mentor; peer mentors should

“exhibit good social skills, language, and age-appropriate play skills, be well-liked by peers, have a positive social interaction history with the focal child, be generally compliant with adult directives, attend to an interesting task or activity for 10 minutes, be willing to participate, and attend school on a regular basis” (p. 257).

The child or young person will have someone to turn to if they have difficulties understanding what is going on around them socially, or a problem understanding jokes, or problems with other children.

Assigning a peer buddy is a great idea for several reasons.

  • It teaches the peer patience and tolerance, and
  • It gives the peer responsibility for some of the things that you would take care of otherwise, like making sure the student on the autism spectrum has the necessary materials at hand or is following along with the rest of the class in an activity.

Setting up a peer buddy system can also lead to genuine friendships down the road, even if the interactions seem forced at first. Plus, if your student is with a peer buddy, he or she is not alone, meaning he or she is less likely to be a victim of bullying, and therefore less likely to begin refusing to attend school at all. For information on successful integration of children and young people with autism click here.

It can as simple as adding a Buddy Circle to the classroom or playground.

Smiley faceThe child with autism stands in the Buddy Circle.

By doing so, he or she is saying,

  • “Would you please play with me?”
  • “Would you mind helping me?”

When another child steps into the Buddy Circle, he or she is saying,

  • “Yes, I would like to play with you”.
  • “Of course, I will help, if I can.”

Both children should be rewarded for their interaction, the child with autism for initiating the social interaction and the other child for reading the social situation and responding accordingly.