Teachers' perspectives of the role of nondisabled peers in developing the social competence of students with intellectual disabilities

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Challis Cozzuol, Marilyn
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Educators often expect students with intellectual disabilities to develop social competence through peer interaction in inclusive elementary classrooms. This qualitative study used in-depth, semistructured interviews to investigate teachers' perspectives of social competence, the quality of peer interactions in their classrooms, their part in facilitating those interactions, the roles of the nondisabled peers, as well as the potential benefits to those peers of interacting with students with intellectual disabilities. Findings suggest that teachers are using many interaction interventions to facilitate peer interactions and a variety of nondisabled peer roles are described. The peer utilitarian support roles were caretaking, tutoring, providing information, and suggesting ideas or strategies. The peer social support roles were including, accepting, modeling, being friendly, clarifying, encouraging, provoking, and ignoring. Peer utilitarian support roles were describe more frequently than the peer social support roles. The participants described several benefits and a few costs to the nondisabled peers from interacting with students with intellectual disabilities. Some educational dichotomies (i.e., social vs. academic emphasis, lesson planning vs. teachable moment, individual vs. group needs) seemed to permeate the interviews. Teachers need to be encouraged to capitalize on the "teachable moments" to meet social needs. Understanding the roles that the nondisabled peers could perform may lead to increased social and academic inclusion and the development of social competence of students with intellectual disabilities.