Kindergarten and first grade students are part of a student peer to peer support system through the LINKS program, which pairs students with autism with children in the general school population.
At Montabella Community School, a lunch group of young students is part of the LINKS program. Lunch is a great time to encourage social interaction. “The program promotes social interaction and independence through teaching peers,” teacher consultant Amanda Foster explained. “Students are constantly encouraged to interact with each other. Our students with autism often need to be taught how to initiate interaction.”
Foster and school social worker Carlee Gifford, prepare the children for what kinds of interactions to expect. One of the main goals of the first sessions is appropriate greetings. Peers say hello with the goal of having the other student respond back, saying hello. Sometimes the LINKS student will face away from a group and not respond when asked to sit at a table, or return a greeting.
“Students are constantly encouraged to interact with each other. Our students with autism often need to be taught how to initiate interaction,” Gifford said. “We, as adults, also often don’t know what is age-appropriate, which is why it is so crucial for these students to learn social skills from their same-age peers.”
Students with autism are paired with a buddy, and eat lunch with them. They learn to socialize through modeling. Gifford and Foster plan an activity during lunch to keep the students interacting.