Pittsburgh UCLID LEND Faculty Launch Innovative Pilot Project on Improving Peer Relationships of Children Surviving Brain Tumors

July 19, 2012

Dr. Robert Noll, LEND Director
Dr. Robert Noll, LEND Director

Faculty from the UCLID Center (LEND of Pittsburgh) have recently received a grant from the St. Baldrick foundation to support an innovative pilot project focusing on improving the peer relationships of children surviving brain tumors.

Having friends is an essential element of normal child development. Several studies have shown that children surviving brain tumors are described by peers as isolated, victimized, friendless, and not well liked. Children who are described this way by their peers are at risk for being bullied; dropping out of school; becoming anxious or depressed; and a wide range of interpersonal and professional problems as adults. Peer nominations are reliable and predict future functioning.

Two categories of intervention have been attempted to help children with dysfunctional social competence: direct training (social skills training of target children) and peer-mediated training (training "typical" peers about inclusion and how to engage isolated children). While both methods are theoretically supported, Dr. Kasari and her colleagues recently published evidence for the efficacy of peer-mediated training to help children with Asperger's syndrome. Since classmates view the social competence of children with Asperger's as being strikingly similar to that of brain tumor survivors, our research will test the effectiveness of peer-mediated training with a different group of children with similar challenges.

This pilot trial will determine whether a modified version of Kasari's manualized peer-mediated training is acceptable to parents of children surviving brain tumors, school administrators, and classmates. Further, we will evaluate evidence of efficacy in improving the social interaction of children with brain tumors based on blinded peer ratings of friendship, likeability, victimization, and isolation. Children who have more friends and are more well liked have a far lower chance of being bullied. The results of our research have broad implications related to all children with "differences" and how to really support inclusion of children with special needs.