Article Details

Research Database: Article Details

Citation:  Westerlund, D., Granucci, E.A., Gamache, P., & Clark, H.B. (2006). Effects of peer mentors on work-related performance of adolescents with behavioral and/or learning disabilities. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 8 (4), 244-251.
Title:  Effects of peer mentors on work-related performance of adolescents with behavioral and/or learning disabilities
Authors:  Westerlund, D., Granucci, E.A., Gamache, P., & Clark, H.B.
Year:  2006
Journal/Publication:  Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions
Publisher:  Hammill Institute on Disabilities
Full text:   
Peer-reviewed?  Yes
NIDILRR-funded?  Not reported
Research design:  Single subject design

Structured abstract:

Background:  The transition to adulthood can be challenging for all youth; this is especially true for many young people with disabilities. They often experience high levels of school dropout, unemployment, economic hardship and instability, and social isolation. Over the years policies of special education programming (e.g., Individualized Education Programs, Individual Transition Plans) have been developed to increase employment competence and outcomes for young people with disabilities. However, these policies have not translated into effective practices. Research has been evolving on how to use person-centered planning and positive behavioral support principles and strategies to improve post secondary outcomes particularly in employment settings. A peer-mentor instructional and coaching role for youth with disabilities in school-based technical or vocational training programs may be an effective. This approach may be used to build on young people‚Äôs interests and strengths, tailor supports, and improve successful learning of work-related curriculum skills. They could also provide a cost-effective way of preparing youth for the task and social expectations of the workplace.
Purpose:  The purpose of this study was to examine the role of peer mentors in a school-based cosmetology vocational training salon in increasing the work-related skills of youth with specific learning disabilities (SLDs) and severe emotional disturbances (SEDs).
Setting:  The setting for the study was a vocational training program in cosmetology at a technial center. There secondary and adult students learn how to perform a variety of salon services (ie. haircuts, hair styling, nail care etc...), using manikins and school and community patrons.
Study sample:  Four female students between the ages of 16 to 18 participated in the study. Each had a diagnosis of severe emotional disturbance or severe learning disability. Each student had expressed a desire in pursuing a career in cosmotology during person centered planning.
Intervention:  The intervention involved vocational training in a beauty salon and peer mentoring.Four advanced students in the cosmetology program served as peer mentors. These students were selected based on task proficiencies and personal attributes (patient, good listener, willingness to participate etc...) associated with successful mentors. Mentors particpated in a 30 to 45 minute training that covered instructional methods. Specifically they were taught how to help the students learn work related skills using behavioral rehearsal demonstrating targeted tasks and delivering descriptive prasie and corrective feedback. Each mentor introduced the intervention, explained and or modeled the behavior, allowed the student to perform the behaviro and then provided descriptive praise and corrective feedback. If the participant failed to demonstrate the correct behavior after 3 trials, the mentor would model the behavior again. The peer mentor was in close proximity of the participant drung the first 3 sessions. The experimenter observed the sessions, giving the mentor feedback. Once data revealed that the first behavior was stable, the next intervention began. A multiple baseline design across behaviors was used to analyze the treatment effects of the peer mentor training. Each participant was paried with a mentor. Afterwards each received training from the peer mentor on one behavior after baseline stability was achieved. The first target behavior was told to the mentor immediately prior to training and intervention. The second behavior was not revealed until sufficient data had been collected on the first behavior. The peer mentor was trained and instructed to intervene on the second behavior while continuing intervention on the first behavior. The condition changes were determined through visual inspection of the graphic data to ensure that the data for the first targeted behavior were stable and no trend was evident on the second behavior in the expected direction of the next condition.
Control or comparison condition:  There was no control or comparison condition.
Data collection and analysis:  Each participant had a targeted work related tasks to learn. The first had roller setting and combing out. The second had combing out and roller setting. Roller setting was judged based on a pre-determined criteria. Combing out was observed and afterwards the task was judged on pre-determined factors. The other two participants, the third and fourth received training on comfort inquires and suggestive statements. Work tasks were selected where specific comfort inqueries (ie. Is the water to hot?) and suggestive statements (using hair styling products) were appropriate. The mentor and experimenter detemined 1 to 3 minimal opportiunties to make comfort inquiries and 1 to 2 minimal suggestion statements for each type of service. Observers were trainied on all behaviors or products to an interater reliability of 85% or more by observ ing other students in the program. Each participant completed a circle of support form during baseline and at the end of the study. Both participants and mentors completed a questionnaire to guage their views about the peer mentoring role.
Findings:  Participant #1 showed significant increase in performance across roller setting and combing out after the peer mentor's intervention. Participant #2 demonstrated an increase in accuracy and stability for both tasks. Participant #3 showed improved performance on both behaviors after peer intervention as did, participant 4. All participants reported feeling more comfortable with the peer mentors who conducted the training than with instructors or managers. Additionally, all indicated they would recommend peer mentoring to others. The peer mentors responses were also favorable. Three of the four mentors indicated they found the experience enjoyable and would do it again.
Conclusions:  Peer mentors can trained to teach individuals with disabilities who have difficulties learning verbal and nonverbal tasks. This appears to be an effective and acceptable way to assist student performance in a vocational training setting. It also appears to be help young people feel more comfortable in such settings. More research is needed to learn more about using peer mentors in vocational training settings and using coworkers as natural supports in employment settings.

Disabilities served:  Learning disabilities
Populations served:  Gender: Female
Transition-age youth (14 - 24)
Interventions:  Peer mentor
Outcomes:  Employment acquisition