Inclusive classrooms are becoming increasingly common in Australia. Today, many students with both physical and intellectual disabilities can study alongside traditional students and participate in the same class activities.

One effective way to enrich the academic experience of students with disabilities is to give them access to a peer support programme. These programmes usually involve students with disabilities receiving support from fellow students.

The purpose of peer support for students with disabilities is to give them more educational activities and help them develop essential skills.

In most cases, the support is provided by students who don’t have any disabilities, who have been given some guidance from the school on how to work with the programme. The students are not alone in this; however, teachers will still give them support where needed.

If you have a young person with disabilities under your care, this support at school may help them greatly. Here are four benefits of peer support for students with disabilities.

  • Allows more interactions with classmates

In inclusive classrooms, students with disabilities get the attention they need from their teachers, but sometimes they may not interact much with their classmates.

The development of social and communication skills is essential for young students, and peer support allows more interaction between students both with and without disabilities.

Being able to interact with their peers this way helps Students with disabilities learn. It can also help them grow their social networks and develop supportive and meaningful relationships with their peers.

These interactions may be beneficial to students without disabilities as well. Through peer support programmes, they’ll learn more about effectively communicating and interacting with students with disabilities while looking past their differences.

  • Ensures broader participation in school activities

With the help of peer support, students with disabilities will be able to participate in more educational activities while at school. In addition, when they have someone of their age assisting them with school activities, they’ll feel more comfortable participating in them. 

  • Reduces instances of bullying

Some students with disabilities may go through bullying at school at the hands of their own peers. One common reason for this kind of treatment is that other students do not properly understand students with disabilities and the challenges they face.

Bullying can have drastic effects on the psychological well-being of students. It may lead to depression, anxiety and in some cases, even aggressive behaviour in the future.

Peer support programmes encourage students without disabilities to spend time with students who do. This fosters a better understanding of the difficulties these students face and significantly reduces instances of bullying.

With bullying out of the picture, students with disabilities can feel more at ease at school and not fear being judged and mistreated because of their condition.

  • Academic progress for both students with and without disabilities

Students both with and without disabilities will follow the same curriculum if they’re in an inclusive learning environment; this means that peers will assist students with disabilities on the same things they’re studying.

For students with disabilities, learning the syllabus will be easier for them when they study with a peer who’s studying the same thing. This makes discussions about the subjects more meaningful and easier to understand.

At the same time, students without disabilities can also monitor their own progress and achieve their own academic goals while helping students who have disabilities.

Types of peer support for students with disabilities

There’s no one size fits all approach to peer support; however, there are a few different ways it can be implemented.

Peer modelling 

Peer modelling involves showing students with disabilities how to perform certain tasks in the classroom and demonstrate particular social skills. Students with disabilities can then observe and learn from these demonstrations.

To make it easier to follow, peers will tell the observing students what they’re doing in detail and why they’re doing it.

These demonstrations can be made live during class or recorded for the students to view later.

Cooperative learning

This type of peer support involves putting students both with and without disabilities in learning groups. These groups discourage competition among the students and encourage them to share accomplishments, support each other and cooperate.

Every student in these group work towards a common academic goal, and success is when everyone has achieved their intended goals.

Peer tutoring

Just as it sounds, peer tutoring  involves having students with disabilities being taught by their peers. The students may be tutored on a particular subject, lesson or skill.

Being tutored by other students their age can make lessons more interesting and enriching for students with disabilities. 

Sometimes, roles can be reversed during peer tutoring, and students with disabilities can help other students who have trouble with their lessons. This will give them more confidence and allow them to exercise their knowledge and understanding of their school subjects.

Additionally, peer tutoring can help the peer tutors themselves as it allows them to sharpen their skills and improves their attitudes towards learning.

Friendship groups

These peer support groups are designed to help students with disabilities socialise with their peers. This is especially beneficial for students with disabilities who are new to the school.

Friendship groups stay together during lunch, after school activities and recess. These groups are a great way for students with disabilities to meet new people and form meaningful friendships. 

Peer support can enhance academic experiences

Peer support programmes in schools can help both students with disabilities and their peers who don’t have any disabilities. These programmes enrich and make the academic experiences of these students more rewarding.

If you’re taking care of a young individual with disabilities and want them to get the best out of their education, speak with your local schools about possible peer support programmes.

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