Peer to Peer: Frequently Asked Questions

Peer to Peer Support is an Evidence-Based Practice for students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Peer to Peer support programs increase opportunities for students with ASD to access general education settings and curriculum. Peers model typical academic and social behavior in educational environments throughout the school day and provide support for students with ASD to promote independence and socialization. Peer to Peer support programs and inclusion of students with ASD not only affects outcomes for the students with ASD, but can also positively impact peers. Although Peer to Peer was originally established as a support for students with ASD, it is beneficial for students with other disabilities.

Yes! Educators are proving their ability to adjust the delivery of instruction for academics, and we can adjust the delivery of social opportunities as well. Students with IEPs need social opportunities now more than ever! Ensuring that students with IEPs have access to peers is a proactive, evidence-based strategy to help reduce that anxiety, head off problems, and maintain social connections.

Currently, SEL considerations are at the forefront for all students. An important part of SEL is “how students build relationships with each other” (CASEL). Peer to Peer focuses on prioritizing relationships and human connections, and these programs will support the mental health needs of our students as we embark on this school year.  

Suggestions for adapting Peer to Peer in person:  

Physical proximity does not define how we socialize. Even with social distancing, we have the opportunity to connect students. LINKS can still sit “next to” students with IEPs in class, have lunch together, and encourage one another. One of the primary roles of peers is to model expected behavior. This can include how to interact with others while sitting at a distance, stay calm, and ask for help. 

You can use the LINKs boxes on the START Peer to Peer page for activities to help students connect. And, you can ask LINK students for ideas!

Suggestions for adapting Peer to Peer virtually: 

Zoom and Google Hangouts are now familiar tools. For students that are engaging in virtual learning, we can create times during school hours when school staff facilitates interactions between students. Visit the START website to access the Padlet and the Virtual LINKS Box. With some initial modeling and practice, older students may be able to continue these connections independently through the use of technology.

For younger children, connect them with each other during class time, but also consider reaching out to families in order to facilitate virtual “play dates” to keep them connected. Some amazing interactions have happened online even with preschoolers.

P2P support programs increase opportunities for students with ASD to access general education settings and the curriculum. Peers model typical academic and social behavior in educational environments throughout the school day and provide support for students with ASD to promote independence and socialization. P2P support programs and inclusion of students with ASD contribute to positive outcomes for both students with ASD and LINKS students. As a result of education and daily interaction with peers, LINKS gain an understanding of ASD and develop advocacy and problem-solving skills. Learn more about the impact of P2P:

Build a team! Recruit building staff and ancillary staff to embark on this journey with you! If you are building an Elementary P2P Program, refer to the Program Development tab in the Elementary Peer to Peer Program Playbook. If you will be implementing P2P at the Secondary level, refer to the Program Development tab in the Secondary Peer to Peer Program Playbook. Once you have established your team, the Playbooks will guide you through the recruitment of peers, training peers, and program maintenance.

For an easy read, reference the Peer to Peer Team Development document.

Any student can be a P2P support student! Earning good grades is NOT a requirement for being a LINK. For more information regarding recruiting LINK students, refer to the Recruitment tab in the Elementary Peer to Peer Program Playbook and in the Secondary Peer to Peer Program Playbook

It is important to note that there is evidence showing that LINK students benefit from participation in P2P Programs. The Focus on Results - Peer to Peer Programs Change Lives cites one of these benefits as improved grades.

Accreditation at the Secondary level is as simple as attaining your local Board of Education approval. Once you have received Board approval, a description of the P2P/LINKS course can be added to your school Course Catalog. Instructions and sample resources for presenting LINKS as an accredited P2P Program, writing a course catalog description, designating a teacher of record, and establishing a curriculum are available in the Secondary Peer to Peer Playbook in the Program Development tab.

Yes! Four years of curriculum are available for secondary LINKS students. The purpose of the curriculum is to provide access to comprehensive, engaging, and age-appropriate content addressing ASD and other disabilities. The curriculum includes lesson plans, assignments, and grading criteria in alignment with Michigan Department of Education Pupil Accounting Manual requirements. The content can be delivered utilizing a face-to-face, online, or hybrid format. LINKS students can access the curriculum through Moodle or Google Classroom. For more information please visit the Peer to Peer Online Course page and the Secondary Peer to Peer Playbook in the Program Development tab.

P2P and UCS have established themselves as mutually compatible programs in the state of Michigan. USC offers yet another bridge to school and community opportunities that promote friendship and shared experiences. 

The UCS program is funded by the U.S. Office of Special Education Programs at the U.S. Department of Education and leads the way to socially inclusive schools, where all students are purposefully integrated into the school and where the abilities and gifts of each student are recognized and celebrated. UCS is composed of three main components—Inclusive Youth Leadership, Unified Sports®, and Whole School Engagement. Through inclusive youth leadership, students with and without intellectual disabilities learn to work and lead together to advance opportunities for all students to become involved in school activities, to get to know each other, and to create environments of acceptance and tolerance. To learn more about UCS Michigan, please visit Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools

To be inspired, take a few moments to view these videos capturing P2P and UCS partnerships.

Peer to Peer is not exclusively for autistic students. In fact, students with a variety of disabilities benefit from participation in P2P programs across the state of Michigan. Although P2P was originally established for students with ASD, the Michigan Department of Education Pupil Accounting Manual articulates that LINKS taking P2P as a course for credit have the capacity to engage with any student with an IEP  (you can read the details in the MDE 2018-19 Pupil Accounting Manual - P2P as an Elective Course). And yes, please offer Peer to Peer to students with a 504 Plan! Elementary and non-accredited secondary programs can easily do this. Accredited secondary LINKS P2P programs can and have come up with creative solutions to expand the reach of P2P. Consider creating a P2P club and including additional students in extracurricular activities or setting up informal peer connections at targeted times in a student’s school day. 

Absolutely! There are testimonials from around Michigan highlighting the fact that students with an IEP or a 504 Plan have been exceptional Peer Support Students, connecting with compassion and empathy and developing leadership and problem-solving skills. P2P quite often becomes the highlight of these students’ often challenging school experiences. Additionally, there is data showing improved attendance, raised GPAs, and decreased behavioral referrals as a result of participation in P2P programs. The Outcomes for LINKS flyer details this research.

The goal of Peer to Peer programming is authentic inclusive opportunities that promote belonging. START has focused on Peer to Peer being a Participation Model and not a Helping Model.  A Helping Model is a "mentor/mentee" or “helper/helpee” program with a focus only on helping a student with a disability. Helping programs could certainly promote ableism. 

The Participation Model, however, high fidelity programs, should be a mechanism for dismantling ableism. Engaging neurotypical peers alongside their peers with disabilities provides them with the opportunity to learn about presuming competence, the strengths of students with disabilities, and why their peers might do things differently than they do (e.g., stimming, lack of eye contact, different communication styles) and to respect such differences. Participation programs are reciprocal focusing on developing authentic and meaningful friendships. Students will break down barriers to community inclusion alongside their peers with disabilities. Through the Participation Program, our goal is to build a community of allies and not helpers. 

These concepts are not always easy. It is critical that all educators know the purpose of Peer to Peer. This requires continuous teaching, advocating, and revisiting with staff and students what peer support is and what peer support is not.

This article, Peer to Peer Support is a Participation Model, would be a great resource to share with your colleagues. We also have Fidelity Checklists that can support counteracting ableism through how you run your programs! In addition, you may want to check out the updated Peer to Peer Secondary Curriculum: Reimagined. This curriculum directly addresses ableism and teachers students how to be allies. 

If it feels like you may have a helping model, that is okay - you can begin tomorrow by making a shift! 

Do you have an additional question about Peer to Peer? Submit it here: 

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Page last modified December 18, 2020