Autism is a pervasive neurodevelopmental disorder affecting typical social functioning and repetitive behaviours and interests. For many individuals with autism, social impairment is one of the most challenging characteristics of their diagnosis. For a number of school students with autism in Australia, social impairments often limit the extent to which they participate in mainstream schools and classrooms.
Due to the growth in the proportion of students with autism entering mainstream education, it is becoming increasingly difficult for mainstream education teachers to address the unique and diverse needs of the students in their care. Some teachers find it particularly difficult to support the social development of their students with autism without sacrificing the time spent on academic tasks.
The current study explored the effect of peer-mediated time-delay instruction, embedded within typical academic inquiry-based learning tasks, as support for the social communication development of students with autism. Four single-case designs, each involving a multiple-baseline-across-behaviours design for a target participant with autism, investigated the effect of the peer-mediated intervention on both the frequency and quality of targeted social communication behaviours. Partial interval recording procedures and visual data analysis were used to show that the intervention had some positive effects on several of the social communication behaviours targeted during the study. However, due to small-scale intervention effects, variable data patterns, and inconsistent effect replication, a functional relationship between the intervention and the targeted social communication behaviours could not always be established.
The peer-mediated time-delay instruction was embedded by same-age peers without disability during teacher-led inquiry-based learning sessions within two mainstream primary classrooms. Implementation fidelity data demonstrated that trained peers accurately delivered the intervention, with an increase in accuracy over time. The academic outcomes of all students involved in the intervention (i.e., trained peer mediators and students with autism) were monitored for the duration of their participation. Results showed that there was no regression in academic outcomes for any participating student.