What are the benefits of Peer Interaction therapy?
Peer interaction therapy establishes a foundation to increase the responses in peer initiation of communication and play. It also increases a child’s observational skills as they learn to watch someone who is similar to them. This kind of therapy begins with a very structured activity. For one client, we used the game of memory to teach them the basic objective and rules of the game. In memory, these rules are putting the cards out, making sure they are face down, taking turns flipping over one card at a time until there are no matches left. Once the rules are learned and a student understands the object of the game, they can then learn how to socially interact throughout it. This means teaching how to say, “Good job!” after making a match or, “I like playing this game with you!” where the student responds, “Thanks!” For this same client, we also used videos of peers to teach independent responses. I knew when I saw my client’s face beam as he watched his new friend speak directly to him that this was an entirely new form of communicating that he had never used before! I remember the first time one of his peers came to play the memory game with him; it was a real nail biting moment for his team. We were nervous to see whether this new way of teaching through video would carry over in a true face-to-face interaction. I remember the anxiety I felt when his peer said, “Let’s count our matches!” and the child immediately responded to him with “Okay! One…two…three…” as he pointed at each of the animals he had matched himself. The excitement was overwhelming as I began to tear up over this milestone we had accomplished. This child who was just forming full sentences can now respond to conversations with a peer while they play a board game together! Now, the child is learning how to use these common phrases in other games and places as well. Whether he is playing catch with a ball or interacting with new peers at the park, he is learning how to tell his friends what he wants to play on or where he wants to go. Peer Interaction Therapy is teaching him valuable life skills that will impact the way he takes in the world around him everyday, and to me, that is one of the coolest things I could ever see possible.