Child & Youth Care Forum

, Volume 47, Issue 4, pp 517–536 | Cite as

Peer Buddies in the Classroom: The Effects on Spontaneous Conversations in Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder

  • Fiorenzo Laghi
  • Antonia Lonigro
  • Susanna Pallini
  • Roberto Baiocco
Original Paper



To date, research on spontaneous social interactions in mixed and non-mixed groups has not included exchanges with peer buddies.


In Study 1, socio-cognitive factors associated with the intention to volunteer to become a peer buddy for students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) were investigated. In Study 2, spontaneous social interactions in adolescents with ASD and a low level of support with selected peer buddies and with other students were compared.


In Study 1, social-cognitive abilities were investigated through the use of self-report questionnaires. Among typically developing students, their willingness to spontaneously volunteer to help a classmate with ASD was evaluated. Moreover, students were required to indicate among their classmates who were competent to volunteer and who were not. In Study 2, social interaction behaviors in mixed and non-mixed groups were observed and opportunely codified.


In Study 1, students expressing the intention to volunteer obtained higher scores on empathy scale and displayed more positive attitudes towards ASD than other classmates. Volunteers were, in turn, selected as peer buddies by their classmates. In Study 2, when students interacted with selected peer buddies engaged in the highest number of social positive interaction behaviors than they did in other kinds of groups. The worst social interactions were observed in non-mixed groups.


Social behavior displayed by students with ASD appeared strongly influenced by social partners. Students with ASD seemed to more positively benefit from interactions with selected peer buddies compared to other mixed and non-mixed groups.


Spontaneous interaction Autism Spectrum Disorder Peer buddies Mixed group Non-mixed group Regular education 



The authors would like to express their deep gratitude to students, parents, and teachers who participated in research and to principals and all the staff of the schools involved.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional Sapienza University of Rome and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Social and Developmental PsychologyUniversity of Rome SapienzaRomeItaly
  2. 2.Department of EducationRoma Tre UniversityRomeItaly

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