Improving the Social Status of Peer-Rejected Youth with Disabilities: Extending the Research on Positive Peer Reporting

By Bowers, Frank E.; Jensen, Marcia E. et al. | The International Journal of Behavioral Consultation and Therapy, Fall 2008 | Go to article overview

Improving the Social Status of Peer-Rejected Youth with Disabilities: Extending the Research on Positive Peer Reporting


Bowers, Frank E., Jensen, Marcia E., Cook, Clayton R., McEachern, Amber D., Snyder, Tara, The International Journal of Behavioral Consultation and Therapy


Emotional or behavioral disabilities and peer rejection independently pose significant risks for social, emotional, and behavioral problems. These risk factors are often co-occurring, which increases the likelihood of experiencing negative outcomes. Research has shown that peer rejection is one of the strongest predictors of delinquency (Williams & Gilmour, 1994), aggressive behavior (Rabiner, Coie, Miller-Johnson, Boykin, & Lochman, 2005), adult psychopathology (Bagwell, Newcomb, & Bukowski, 1998), and other negative life course outcomes (Parker & Asher, 1987). Studies examining the prevalence of peer rejection in the school-aged population suggest that 15 to 25% of children and youth are rejected by their peers (Bierman & Montminy, 1993). For youth with disabilities, these estimates are substantially higher, reaching as high as 40% (Mishna, 2003; Nabuzoka & Smith, 1993; Unnever, & Cornell, 2003). Given the large number of youth who experience peer rejection, there is a high premium on interventions that can improve the social status and functioning of these youth.

Social skills training (SST) has been the most frequently endorsed and used intervention strategy to improve the social functioning and status of peer-rejected youth. SST assumes that peerrejected youth have social skill deficits (i.e., they do not possess the skill) and these deficits prevent them from being successful in social situations. Consequently, teaching youth specific social skills to remediate their deficits will likely produce social dividends in terms of enhanced social competence and standing among their peers. SST has been shown to be an effective intervention for youth with emotional and behavioral disabilities (Cook et al., 2008; Gresham, Cook, Crews, & Kern, 2004). Unfortunately, there are several limitations associated with SST that prevent it from fully addressing the needs of peer-rejected youth with disabilities. First, the youth may not have a skill deficit at all, but rather a performance deficit. That is, he or she may know how to perform the skill, but, for some reason, does not utilize the skill when the situation calls for it. Simply retraining an already learned skill does not appear to be helpful in reducing peer rejection. Second, once the youth learns the skill, because of reputational bias, behavior momentum or lack of motivation, the skill does not often generalize to the natural environment (Gresham, 1998; Maag, 2005).

In an attempt to overcome some of the limitations of SST, Ervin, Miller, and Friman (1996) developed Positive Peer Reporting (PPR). PPR is a behavior analytic intervention that uses the peer ecology to influence behavior and promote social acceptance of peer-rejected youth. PPR works by actively soliciting peers to provide positive reports or statements to a target youth identified as the Recipient. The peers, called Tellers, are provided positive reinforcement using a token economy system for making positive statements about the Recipient. The Recipient receives continual positive social attention; thereby, altering the peer ecology from one that included aggressive rejection or isolation to one that is supportive and reinforcing.

There is a growing body of literature demonstrating the efficacy of PPR in several different settings, including a residential treatment center (Bowers, McGinnis, Ervin & Friman, 1999), a school within a residential treatment center (Ervin, Miller, & Friman, 1996), a public school (Moroz & Jones, 2001), and foster care placement (Van Horn, 2004). Other studies have been conducted that support the efficacy of PPR (Hofstadler, 2007; Morrison & Jones, 2007). Together, these studies have targeted a wide range of youth who were either peer rejected or ignored. Researchers have also assessed the social validity of PPR and found that it is rated by implementers as highly acceptable and likely to lead to socially important outcomes. …

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