Hi, I’m Alanna Apap, the creator of Peer P.A.L.S.® (Playing and Learning Socially) a program to train typically developing peers to interact and build relationships with their peers with autism. The PEER P.A.L.S. PROGRAM focuses on developing key skills and attitudes so that individuals with autism spectrum disorders are able to be successfully included, supported and understood by peers and adults in caring and encouraging environments.
I also created Surviving Stressful Situations® a hands-on activity based social-behavioral skills curriculum for children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) and Aspergers(still in the making). Living in Florida for over 25 years provided the inspiration for the fun, tropical theme of my programs. I am a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) with over 25 years of experience specializing in working with children with autism and other disabilities.
I have a master’s degree in education and supervised a behavior team of 10 which served the Martin County School District for 17 years. Throughout those years, I saw firsthand the lack of available training and materials to educate and build relationships between typical peers with their peers with autism and other disabilities.
I also encountered the lack of social skills materials for children with autism, and witnessed these children in isolation, continuing to make the same social and behavioral errors time after time.
So began my 14 year dedication of countless hours to create them. Now, after 14 years of development and implementation with these materials in school and small private social skills group sessions, I realized I must get this work out to others.
Currently, I have a small private practice being back to my roots in early intervention with the birth thru 5 age group. Keeping my practice small allows me to maintain my commitment to continue my mission to provide social-behavioral skills lessons to the children who so desperately need them.
How Peer P.A.L.S.® Got Started
It all began one summer 16 years ago with a nonverbal student whose way of communicating was to hit people, up to 200 times a day. As a behavior analyst, I knew she needed the motivation of being with typical children, so I pulled my fourth-grade daughter’s hair into a ponytail, snatched my nine-year-old niece, armored them in long-sleeve shirts, jeans, and sneakers, and said, “Okay, here’s the deal. She’s going to try to deck you and this is what you are going to do and say.” Day after day, they enjoyed coming to the extended school year summer program to play and teach their new friend. They learned their skills so well that they were never hurt, and the student’s aggression decreased 90%. When I overheard my daughter pray for God to let all children talk, I realized the interaction had affected her as much as the student. That initial experience began a 90% decrease for me too… in my spare time as I began to formalize the Peer P.A.L.S.® Program to train typical peers. Throughout the years I’ve been able to watch the beauty unfold as relationships were built, empathy, compassion and understanding grew and every child in the program benefited. The Peer P.A.L.S.® program has been implemented with hundreds of typical peers and students with autism and other varying exceptionalities.
How Surviving Stressful Situations® Got Started
As a behavior analyst consulting with school districts for the past twenty five years, I know how difficult it is for students to experience quality and quantity social interactions during the busy school day. Academic demands leave little time to implement structured methods, and pullout programs often lack the generalization needed. In many regular education classes, social skills are embedded into the day, often not salient enough for students with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Given their limited free time, typical peers usually like to spend it with close friends. Even if they did have the time, a lack of training, skills and sensitivity in models puts existing friendships at risk. In Exceptional Student Education, I have observed countless teachers laboriously creating supports in an attempt to implement social skill programs. The time, cost, and labor involved in adapting such programs can be overwhelming. With all of these confounding variables, I continued to observe students making the same social mistakes, further isolating them from their typical peers.