What is Peer-Mediated Instruction and Intervention in the Context of Applied Behavior Analysis?

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What’s the most effective strategy for teaching children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) socially acceptable behaviors? According to many behavior analysts, it’s peer-mediated instruction and intervention (PMII) – social learning through peer interaction, modeling, and reinforcement.

Or, in simpler terms, providing opportunities for children with ASD and other developmental disabilities to acquire new social skills by observing and learning from their peers.

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Why and How is PMII Used?

PMII is designed to teach students with ASD and other developmental disabilities the following:

  • How to respond to others
  • How to share
  • How to interact with others and in groups
  • How to understand others

PMII has been shown to be an effective alternative to the one-on-one paraprofessional guidance typically used in classrooms. It is largely used in the early childhood and elementary age groups for promoting academic, interpersonal, and personal-social development and is intended for use as part of a daily curriculum.

PMII is not just beneficial to the student with the disability (referred to as the focal student); it’s beneficial for the students providing the peer support in areas of academic engagement, classroom participation, and homework completion. Through PMII, peer students, who are carefully chosen by their teacher for their strong academic and social skills, are taught to engage ASD learners in social interactions.

What Does PMII Look Like?

The teacher initially oversees the PMII, often prompting the focal child or peers to begin the interaction, but as the students become more comfortable working together, teachers may reduce their direct support.

Through PMII, children with ASD may learn through:

  • Orientation: Learning by looking at their peers
  • Parallel/proximity play: Playing independently alongside their peers who are using the same materials or are in the same play space
  • Common focus: Engaging in activities that involve directly interacting with their peers, such as taking turns, sharing materials, requesting items from others, asking someone to play

Peers are encouraged to offer praise, provide assistance, and encourage social interaction with the focal student:

  • Would you like to use my scissors?
  • May I please borrow your scissors?
  • Would you like me to help you cut this paper?
  • Thank you for sharing your scissors with me.
  • You did a great job cutting that paper.
  • Would you please help me clean up?
  • Thank you for being so helpful.

When creating and implementing a PMII plan, the following must be considered:

  • The needs of the focal student
  • The social or behavioral skills being targeted
  • The IEP goals of the focal student
  • The educator’s classroom goals
  • The setting in which the PMII will take place (e.g., gym, class, lunch)