The Bridge School
Course of Study

Curriculum and Instruction: Promoting Independence in Social Interactions

Introduction

As educators we focus on providing the effective intervention strategies, materials, AAC/AT tools and supports that promote active participation, learning and success for our students with severe speech and physical disabilities in their academic and social development. Along with our efforts to put all of this in place it is equally important to focus on systematically fading adult support so that our students develop independence as learners and problem solvers with as much opportunity for uninterrupted student to student interaction as possible in both academic and social contexts.

Promoting independence requires the well-coordinated efforts of many, including peers, and the sharing of information among all involved. This includes information regarding the student's communication modes and tools, other assistive technology devices and tools, interaction strategies and additional accommodations that allow the student to participate more independently. In order to systematically organize this information, we have adapted "The Participation Model", a tool developed by David Beukelman and Pat Mirenda to increase academic and social participation in inclusive educational environments. The information shared through the use of this framework can occur through adult modeling during structured activities, during naturally occurring interactive activities, or through direct instruction. As peers demonstrate the ability to interact comfortably and reciprocally with students using AAC, incorporating strategies that allow them to work and play together independently, the adults can step back from direct involvement into a more indirect role. From a distance, the adult can ensure that all students are benefiting from the interaction and meeting their goals. When this is successful, it builds independence and fosters healthy relationships among students.

Planning for Independence

Students who use AAC need opportunities during each school day to function independently. This gives the students a sense of being competent, contributing members of the classroom and school community. This also gives the students a greater sense of their own ability to have control of their achievements and success in school, both academically and socially. The focus for our students is to move toward greater autonomy, independence and self-advocacy.

The student's educational team members (teacher, instructional assistant, speech language pathologist, occupational therapist, physical therapist, assistive technologist) maximize opportunities for the student to be self-determined in their own education, in their social development, in their communication and language development, and in all activities during the school day, both academic and recreational by:

  • Identifying and maximizing opportunities for inclusion and participation
  • Identifying and removing barriers to inclusion and participation
  • Engineering the environment
  • Providing necessary supports to the student
  • Engaging and training peer partners
Identify Opportunities

School playgrounds provide a multitude of opportunities for peer interaction. Recess time provides a natural context for students to develop friendships while engaging in games and activities of mutual interest. These opportunities typically include spontaneous student-created games, social groups where students are just hanging out and chatting, as well as more structured games that can be planned in advance.

 


Identify and Remove Barriers

By renovating playgrounds and making them accessible to students of all abilities, physical barriers to play are being systematically removed. New play structures on level, rubberized surfaces with wheelchair ramps up to all levels as well as equipment that can be manipulated by students with physical challenges is becoming more commonplace in school and community playgrounds. Other examples of accessible play equipment are bucket swings with harnesses for trunk-support and sand/water tables with adjustable heights. Even given all of these improvements, there can still remain barriers on the playground that need to be assessed for students with Severe Speech and Physical Impairments (SSPI). These include access to communication tools and devices in this loud outdoor environment as well as access to play equipment that has not yet been adapted for physical needs.


Engineer the Environment

Engineering the environment includes adaptations that staff can make to equipment and to the playground space to make it more accessible for students and to ensure their safety. It is also essential to engineer the play environment and equipment in order to maximize opportunities for social engagement and to minimize the need for adult support. The adults supporting students at recess need to continue to assess activities on a regular basis for equipment needs (appropriately adapted), communication needs, mobility needs and peer interest.

Some of examples of adaptations that can be made to engineer the environment are:

  • Defining a level playing surface
  • Demarcating play area with orange cones
  • Providing adapted bowling ramp and belt to hold bowling pins
  • Providing T-Ball stand
  • Visual display of recess game with activity sequence, rules of game and roles of players defined

Provide Necessary Supports

In order for our students to have maximum participation and inclusion in recess activities with their peers, it is essential that they have the appropriate assistive technology tools required for independent communication and mobility. For communication, this consists of appropriate high-tech and low-tech communication tools and devices that are easily accessible and programmed with vocabulary appropriate to the recess activity. For mobility, this consists of equipment that allows for self-initiated movement and engagement within recess activities as well as social orientation and interaction with peers.

The adult supporting students at recess needs to assess activities on a regular basis for any additional assistive technologies necessary to meet students' ongoing communication and mobility needs on the playground.


Engage and Train Peer Partners

Peer interactions on the playground provide a natural context for authentic friendships to build. In addition, peers provide natural supports to students with severe speech and physical impairments thereby allowing the instructional assistant to step back and fade their support.

Through peer relationships:

  • Children learn how to engage in reciprocal interactions
  • Children see that they have commonalities/common interests
  • Children develop understanding and acceptance of individual differences
  • Children experience play that is child-centered and not adult driven
  • Additional peers will enter in when the focus is on the kids and game.
  • Children have opportunities to build self-esteem/self-confidence

The Instructional Assistant can engage, educate and encourage peer partners by:

  • Providing Communication Awareness training
  • Providing ongoing modeling and support
  • Allowing time for students to get to know each other and their varied modes of communication
  • Allowing students to make their own choices, problem-solve together and negotiate play
  • Ensuring that peers are comfortable using communication strategies
  • Ensuring that peers are aware of equipment safety and limitations for a particular activity
  • Ensuring that peers have knowledge about student's motor ability and how student can use own movement to manipulate play equipment.
  • Encouraging consistent peer buddies as a means to increase student's comfort and confidence.

Role of the Instructional Assistant

The role of the Instructional Assistant is critical to the success of students with severe speech and physical impairments in inclusive recreational settings. The four key areas of support that Instructional Assistants provide to these students are the following:

  1. Safety
  2. Physical Support
  3. Communication Support
  4. Social Support

While providing support to the student, consider the following:

  • Monitor the situation for student safety, access and appropriate level of support
  • Step in when necessary - Fade back as soon as possible
  • Evaluate the situation for other supports that may allow fading back instructional assistant support (e.g. visual supports/scaffolds; tactile supports; AT supports; natural peer supports, etc.)
  • Incorporate the supports that allow for more student independence and less reliance on instructional assistant support
  • Evaluate the situation to determine social supports that would increase student's comfort/confidence level (e.g., being in groups with familiar peers, staying with a group of familiar peers on the playground for a period of time rather than changing groups too frequently)
  • Ensure that the peer partners remain interested in the activity with the focus student:
    • Ensure that all students have a role in the game and are able to make decisions about the course of the game or activity.
    • Ensure that all students' opinions are included and all are seen as important members of the group
    • Encourage students to create/make-up roles and rules
    • Encourage students to suggest different props that could make the game more interesting
  • Ensure that turn-taking opportunities happen:
    • Establish rules of the game
    • Model turn-taking strategies that students can use
    • Provide equipment that equalizes the number of turns (e.g., throwing dice, using a spinner, etc.)
    • Encourage students to speak up about taking a turn with their partner
    • Provide voice output with attention getting phrases "my turn!"; "hey, I want to go!"; "your turn!".
  • Ensure the physical support that is provided is respectful and only as needed:
    • Provide physical support minimally, only as needed, and unobtrusively from behind so peers are facing each other
    • Give hand-under-hand assistance so students are guiding movement with their own hand on top
    • Provide mobility device that allows best possible opportunities to participate (e.g., hands-free walker that allows student to hold the ball)
    • Support students in ways that encourage movement

With the Planning For Independence Framework completed, the environment engineered and assistive technology supports in place, the Instructional Assistant provides support as unobtrusively as possible to foster the independence and autonomy of the students and to allow peers to provide natural supports.

The progression for systematically fading Instructional Assistant support is as follows:

  1. Model appropriate interactions for both the student and the peers within the interaction.
  2. Provide coaching.
  3. Step out.
  4. Observe.
  5. Provide additional support only as needed.

Peer Partners

Through peer relationships:

  • Children learn how to engage in reciprocal interactions
  • Children see that they have commonalities/common interests
  • Children develop understanding and acceptance of individual differences
  • Children experience play that is child-centered and not adult driven
  • Children have opportunities to build self-esteem/self-confidence

Click on an activity title to read the full description.

Spontaneous Recess Game

What are the opportunities?

  • Students are engaged in a spontaneous student-selected activity of chase
  • Students can determine the rules and create roles for the activity
  • Student initiated games provide a rich play experience with lots of opportunities to communicate and learn vocabulary in a natural context with friends

What are the potential barriers?

  • Student needs the ability to move independently and have communication device readily available
  • Student needs the ability to move safely across the different playground terrains
  • Student's peer partners need to be knowledgeable and responsive to student's communication

How are the barriers addressed by engineering the environment and providing supports?

  • Student has an upright/hands-free independent mobility device that allows for self-initiated movement and equal participation in the game
  • Student may need some support when navigating uneven terrain
  • Communication device is mounted, available, and programmed with vocabulary appropriate to activity
  • Peers are trained in student's communication methods and strategies and are responsive to student's communication

What can the instructional assistant do to foster this type of spontaneous student-selected activity?

  • Allow students the opportunity to initiate and interact independently
  • Support the student's independence while monitoring safety at an appropriate distance
  • Monitor the interaction for equal participation by all students, stepping in to model or redirect only if necessary

Planned Recess Game

What are the opportunities?

  • Students are provided with structured play materials
  • Students are working cooperatively to set up the game
  • Student and peer share roles and responsibilities in the game
  • Students learn to negotiate successfully within a structured play opportunity
  • Sustainable play experiences provide motivation and build foundations for friendships

What are the potential barriers?

  • Student needs access to play materials and equipment
  • Student needs independent hands-free upright mobility
  • Student needs access to communication tools and devices

How are the barriers addressed by engineering the environment and providing supports?

  • Adapted materials/equipment are provided to balance participation of all students
  • Student has an upright/hands-free independent mobility device that allows for self-initiated movement and equal participation in the game
  • Communication device is mounted, available, and programmed with vocabulary appropriate to activity
  • Peers are trained in student's communication methods and strategies and are comfortable communicating with one another

What can the instructional assistant do to ensure that these kinds of planned games continue to be successful?

  • Assess the activities on a regular basis for equipment needs (appropriately adapted), communication needs and peer interest
  • Make sure that everyone understands the rules of the game and how all students can be actively engaged in the game
  • Post kid-friendly game instructions on visual display and make sure equipment is readily available
  • Ensure that all students have a role in the game and are able to make decisions about the course of the game or activity
  • Continue to evaluate the situation for appropriate level of support
  • Step back in only when necessary to model and coach. Fade back as soon as possible.

Creative Recess Game

What are the opportunities?

  • Creative, multi-use equipment is available for students to use in spontaneously developing games
  • Students work together and use their imaginations to think of ways to use equipment and materials creatively
  • Games that students develop are based on group dynamics, shared interests and enthusiasm
  • Students are free to come and go as they please and it does not disrupt the game
  • All students can jointly participate regardless of physical ability
  • Unstructured games foster creativity, opportunities for communication, and problem-solving
  • Student-initiated games provide opportunities for students to naturally come up with ways for everyone to be involved
  • Spontaneous games provide students opportunities to play without adult involvement

What are the potential barriers?

  • Student needs access to play materials and equipment
  • Student needs independent hands-free upright mobility
  • Student needs access to communication tools and devices
  • Student's peer partners need to be knowledgeable and responsive to student's communication

How are the barriers addressed by engineering the environment and providing supports?

  • A safe area for play with safe and manageable equipment is provided
  • Adapted materials/equipment are provided to balance participation of all students
  • Student has an upright/hands-free independent mobility device that allows for self-initiated movement and equal participation in the creative play
  • Communication device is mounted, available, and programmed with vocabulary appropriate to imaginative play
  • Peers are trained in student's communication methods and strategies and are comfortable communicating with one another

What can the instructional assistant do to foster this type of creative play?

  • Allow students to express creativity and monitor to ensure positive interactions
  • Recognize and acknowledge students' accomplishments in inventing a new game that everyone is enjoying
  • Ensure that all students have a role in the game and are able to make decisions about the course of the game or activity
  • Monitor group dynamics to ensure that all students' opinions are included and all are seen as important members of the group

Social Hangout

What are the opportunities?

  • Social closeness and engagement with peers on the playground
  • Naturally occurring communication exchanges
  • Building and strengthening friendships

What are the potential barriers?

  • Student needs the ability to move independently and at eye-level with partner
  • Communication device needs to be readily available with appropriate conversational vocabulary
  • Student needs the ability to move safely across the different playground terrains
  • Student's peer partners need to be knowledgeable and responsive to student's communication

How are the barriers addressed by engineering the environment and providing supports?

  • Student has an upright/hands-free independent mobility device that allows for self-initiated movement in the same standing/walking position as peer
  • Student may need some support when navigating uneven terrain
  • Communication device is mounted, available, and programmed with vocabulary appropriate to sustained social conversations
  • Peers are trained in student's communication methods and strategies and are comfortable communicating with one another

What can the instructional assistant do to foster social interactions?

  • Evaluate the situation to determine social supports that would increase student's comfort/confidence level (e.g., being in groups with familiar peers, staying with a group of familiar peers on playground for a period of time rather than changing groups too frequently)
  • Ensure that peers are familiar with one another
  • Ensure that peers are comfortable using communication strategies
  • Provide unobtrusive modeling
  • Help build confidence for greater independence in the interaction
  • Step back in only when needed for safety and to assist with problem solving

Fading Support

As peers demonstrate the ability to interact comfortably and reciprocally with students using AAC, incorporating strategies that allow them to work and play together independently, the adults can step back from direct involvement into a more indirect role. From a distance, the adult can ensure that all students are benefiting from the interaction and meeting their goals. When this is successful, it builds independence as well as fostering healthy relationships among students.

Fading Support Steps

  • Model appropriate interactions for both the student and the peers within the interaction
  • Provide coaching
  • Step out
  • Observe
  • Provide additional support as needed

Example of Fading Support in a planned play sequence:

Resources

Beukelman, D., & Mirenda, P. (2005). Augmentative and Alternative Communication: Supporting Children and Adults with Complex Communication Needs (3rd ed.) Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes.

Janney, R. & Snell, M. (2006). Social Relationships & Peer Support (2nd ed.) Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes.

Hunt, P., Doering, K., Maier, J., & Mintz, E. (2009). Strategies to support the development of positive social relationships and friendships for students who use AAC. In Soto, G., & Zangari, C. (Series Eds.). Practically Speaking: Language, Literacy & Academic Development for Students with AAC Needs (pp. 247-264). Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes.