Friends Helping Friends

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When Reid’s autism teacher, Mrs. Jamie Popp, approached second grade teacher, Mrs. Holly Criniti, about a potential partnership between their students, Mrs. Criniti was all ears. Mrs. Popp was looking for ways to improve her students’ social skills and provide them opportunities to practice communication with their peers; two very important skills necessary for meaningful participation in social situations. Mrs. Popp asked Mrs. Criniti if a few second graders could take turns spending time each day interacting with the autistic students through planned activities and games in an effort to practice their speech.

Mrs. Criniti selected four students based on their maturity, sensitivity to peers with disabilities, and their academic achievement. The second graders have been learning different ways to promote interaction, illicit responses to questions, and encourage verbal responses when they want something. The students have enjoyed playing games with them, asking them questions, and rewarding them for their responses. The helpers take their role very seriously and believe that their autistic friends are already improving and will be talking much better by the end of the year because of their involvement.

All of the students who are participating look forward to their time together and have built immediate friendships. They greet each other in the hallway and light up whenever they see each other. Not only does this partnership impact the autistic students, but it has also had a tremendous positive effect on the second graders. “It’s so fun. They have autism and it’s fun to play with them,” said Mason. “I like to play the fishing game and Hungry, Hungry Hippos with Austin.” One second grader even mentioned his autistic friend in one of his writing assignments.

Reid second grader, Strummer, explained their role as Mrs. Popp’s helpers: “We are supposed to get them to communicate. One day Mrs. Popp was like, ‘Oh I don’t know how to communicate with them.’ So we’re trying to get them to communicate just like we do so Mrs. Popp can understand them.” Jayla explained further, “So when they get bigger they can ask for help. Because if they don’t, like, they can’t talk to people and have them talk back to them.”

Way to go, Mason, Strummer, Jackson and Jayla! Your servant hearts are making a difference in the lives of your new friends!

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