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What is Peer-Mediated Instruction and Intervention?

Peer Mediated InstructionsSince the 1970s, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act mandated that whenever possible, children with disabilities receive education in the least restrictive environment, including with non-disabled peers.  In recent years, the fields of autism, special education, and applied behavior analysis have joined together in support of providing children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) the opportunity to learn from their same-age peers without disabilities.  Peer-Mediated Instruction and Intervention (PMII) describes a growing body of research into how peers can help children with ASD meet a variety of social and communication goals.

What is Peer-Mediated Instruction and Intervention?

Peer-mediated instruction and interventions (PMII)—or any instruction or intervention implemented with another child without disabilities—can be applied in a variety of different ways. Rather than involving just a teacher or therapist and the child, PMII involves one or more peers who take on a role in the teaching.  PMII works in dyads or ‘the buddy system,’ in small groups, and classroom-wide intervention programs.

How does PMII work?

Studies have shown that peer-mediated instruction and interventions work by increasing opportunities to practice appropriate social and communication skills in natural interactions with others (Neitzel, 2008). PMII addresses the core deficits related to autism, including social skills, communication skills, and engagement in restrictive or repetitive behaviors.  The symptoms of autism cause difficulties in a variety of different peer interactions, including:

Some interventions suggest that it’s better to avoid peer interactions when a child shows social delays. PMII instead brings a peer directly into the learning process.  PMII teaches peers the best ways to interact with a child with autism to foster social interaction and communication and work on the types of skills listed above.

PMII can be implemented in different ways.

PMII describes not just one intervention but a group of different methods. PMII has shown to be effective in classwide formats, using peers as natural models, using peers as instructors, and in social skills training.  Below are some examples of how PMII can be customized to meet the goals of different learners with ASD.

Classwide PMII Interventions

Peer-Mediated Instruction and Interventions may be implemented not just with the individual learner and one peer, but instead with all the children in a classroom.  Sometimes known as group-oriented contingencies, these interventions involve systems of reward or motivation for all peers that help foster interactions and appropriate behaviors for the individual learner.   It can also include changing the physical characteristics of a classroom or clinic environment to promote interactions between children.

Peer Modeling Interventions

Some PMII methods capitalize on the peer as a natural model of appropriate behavior.  Sometimes known as observational learning, the technique focuses on having a child with autism observe the peer and subsequently imitate the model.  Research shows that having a peer model a behavior is just as effective for children with ASD as adult models.  Peer-modeling can also be used to help a child with ASD learn to initiate and respond to natural social cues from a peer.

Peer Tutoring Interventions

Peer tutoring interventions describe a myriad of PMII methods where the peer without disabilities assumes the role of the instructor.  During peer tutoring interactions, the peer may provide the instruction, provide the reward or positive reinforcement for good behavior, or may provide corrective feedback.  In most peer-tutoring interventions, the peer undergoes training beforehand but then can independently implement the intervention.  Some peer-tutoring interventions involve the reverse, where the child with autism acts as the tutor, delivering appropriate instructions and corrective feedback to a peer.

Social Skills Training

For learners with goals related to developing social skills, PMII interventions may involve social skills training.  Sometimes known as peer networks, these social skills training groups practice a specific social skill in small groups.  The group might focus on one response, like taking turns or having conversations, or it might have a broader focus on modeling appropriate social behaviors or developing friendships.

What evidence supports Peer-Mediated Instruction and Intervention?

As mentioned above, PMII continues to be one of the better-documented autism interventions because it spans many different fields.  It’s currently listed on the National Professional Development Center on Autism Spectrum Disorders list of evidence-based practices.  It fits the criteria of an evidence-based intervention for both early childhood and elementary-aged children.  Some studies support the use of peer-mediated interventions with high-school students as well, although more research is needed to replicate the findings.

Steps to Starting a PMII Program

Before beginning to implement a peer-mediated instruction and intervention program in your classroom, home, or clinic, it’s helpful to consider both the needs of the peer and the needs of the learner.  Ask these questions as you build an intervention:




Neitzel, J. (2008). Overview of peer-mediated instruction and intervention for children and youth with autism spectrum disorders. Chapel Hill, NC: National Professional Development Center on Autism Spectrum Disorders, FPG Child Development Institute, The University of North Carolina.

Amy Sippl

Applied Behavior Analysis | Saint Cloud State University

Bachelor of Arts (B.A.), Psychology | University of Minnesota

June 2020

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