Kentucky Peer Support Network Project

Building friendships and expanding inclusive activities for students with significant disabilities in Kentucky

By Patti Parsons

Research tell us that making friends can be especially hard for students with significant disabilities. Peer supports and peer networkscan help foster relationships by bringing students together! The University of Kentucky Human Development Institute, through funding from the Commonwealth Council on Developmental Disabilities, is training schools throughout the state to set up Peer Support and Peer Network Programs.

Peer Support and Peer Network programs involve identifying and equipping a group of peers to provide ongoing support to individual students with significant disabilities in or outside of the classroom. Within inclusive classrooms, Peer Supportprograms train peers (usually 2-3) to provide academic and social support during ongoing learning activities.

Beyond the classroom, a group of peers (usually 3-6) form a Peer Network around a student with a significant disability to help foster social connections and friendships between classes, at lunch, in extracurricular activities, or beyond the school day. School staff facilitate these groups to ensure their success. Note that these programs are a step beyond traditional peer tutoring/peer buddy models that many schools use, in that they include multiple peers to support students and, most importantly, they facilitate learning and friendship outside the special education classroom.

There are clear benefits for students with Peer Support and Peer Network programs. The structured face-to-face time allows students to get to know each other well, a necessary component for friendship. Participation in enjoyable social events, like sport events and afterschool activities, allow students to have fun and to grow as they are getting to know each other. Peer Supports and Peer Networks can help students become more efficient communicators and increase participation in the classroom. Academic engagement is enhanced, and students’ self-confidence and self-determination are increased by the support they receive from their peers.

Typical peers gain benefits through Peer Support and Peer Network programs as well. Students without significant disabilities learn about individuals with disabilities and, in turn, learn a great deal about themselves. They are given an opportunity to build friendships they otherwise may have never had. They may become involved in extracurricular activities they had never considered. Academics are also enhanced—previous research shows that students who themselves were just getting by or even struggling in a class raised their grades by over a full letter grade in classes where they supported a peer with a significant disability!

The Kentucky Peer Support Network Project staff from the Human Development Institute include Dr. Harold Kleinert, Principal Investigator, Patti Parsons, Project Coordinator, and Katie Hastings, Research Assistant. Our regional and school trainings are led by Dr. Erik Carter of Vanderbilt University. His work focuses on evidence-based strategies for supporting access to the general curriculum and promoting valued roles in school, work, and community settings for youth and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Regional Trainings are being conducted at nine locations throughout the state in 2014. Encourage your school to attend the Regional Training in your area to learn more about this exciting project. School teams (including a regular education teacher, special educator, administrator and parent) are being recruited. While one school in each Special Education Cooperative will be selected as a Pilot Site, all teams who attend a Regional Training will receive follow-up through the project.

Regional Trainings have been scheduled for the following Special Education Cooperatives:

Northern Kentucky Cooperative for Education Services– held Wednesday, March 26

Central Kentucky Special Education Cooperative– held Monday, May 5

Ohio Valley Educational Cooperativeheld Tuesday, May 6

Jefferson County Exceptional Child Education Services (Louisville) –Friday, August 8

Green River Regional Education Cooperative (Bowling Green) – Wednesday, August 20

West Kentucky Educational Cooperative – (Eddyville) Thursday, August 21

Southeast/Southcentral Education Cooperative (London) Wednesday, September 3

Kentucky Valley Educational Cooperative(Hazard) Thursday, September 4

Kentucky Educational Development Corporation (Big East) (Ashland)– Friday, September 5

For more information, check our website at, and like us on Facebook (! If you have questions, please contact Patti Parsons (, 859 218-1338) or Katie Hastings (, 859 257-4460). We look forward to meeting you!

KY Autism Training Center Summer 2014 Newsletter August 2014