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IES Grant

Title: LEAP–USA Follow-up Project
Center: NCSER Year: 2011
Principal Investigator: Strain, Phillip Awardee: University of Colorado Health Sciences Center
Program: Autism Spectrum Disorders      [Program Details]
Award Period: 9/1/2011–8/31/2014 Award Amount: $1,198,674
Type: Efficacy and Replication Award Number: R324A110246

Purpose: According to the Centers for Disease Control, autism is increasingly becoming a public health crisis with a prevalence that has reached 1 in 110. To provide early intervention, LEAP–USA was developed as a comprehensive intervention model for preschool children with autism. Based on inclusion with typically developing peers, it aims to provide intervention and early education for young children with autism in a manner that does not tax school systems' limited resources. The first randomized controlled trial (RCT) of LEAP has recently been completed, comparing the full-scale model with training to a reduced one. The evaluation demonstrated positive impacts in the areas of child cognition, language, social skills, and symptom severity.

The purpose of the current project is to follow these same children who participated in the original RCT over the next three years. The researchers will examine whether: a) the gains demonstrated in the previous evaluation continue to manifest themselves; b) positive impacts are found in additional areas (classroom placement, academic achievement, use of supportive services); and c) contemporaneous classroom quality is related to student outcomes.

Project Activities: The researchers will recruit the children who participated in the classrooms of the original RCT. Data on child developmental outcomes (direct assessments, teacher rating scale) will be collected longitudinally at the start of the study and at the end of each of the three school years. Data on child outcomes in the educational system (classification, classroom placement, services received) will also be obtained annually. Observational data on classroom quality will be collected three times each school year.

Products: Products from this project will include published reports and presentations on the efficacy of the LEAP intervention for preschoolers with autism over time through early elementary school.

Structured Abstract

Setting: The research will take place in elementary school classrooms in multiple states and districts across the country, primarily in Colorado, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Florida, and Utah.

Population: The population will consist of prior participants (N = 285) of the original LEAP RCT. These children had been diagnosed with autism and attended an inclusive preschool classroom participating in the evaluation.

Intervention: LEAP is an inclusion model that uses a variety of science-based learning techniques. Typically developing children are taught how to use facilitative social and communicative initiations with their peers with autism, with the goal of inducing higher rates of communicative interactions for the children with autism spectrum disorders. The program can be embedded within existing high-quality preschool models and curricula designed for typically developing children. The intervention relies on naturally-occurring incidental teaching, which can lead to more cost-effective treatment than direct one-to-one instruction. LEAP also includes a parent skills training component aimed at teaching parents to use communication skills with their child in naturalistic contexts and decreasing the stress experienced by the family. The treatment condition experienced the full-scale intervention with training and mentoring by LEAP staff, which included a 2-week intensive teacher training, written presentations, discussions, observations, feedback, evaluation, follow-up training, and on-site support.

Research Design and Methods: This study is a follow-up investigation of a randomized controlled trial. The original RCT randomized 56 preschool classrooms into the intervention and comparison groups. The current project aims to recruit all the children who participated in those original classrooms. The researchers will collect data on child development outcomes (cognition, language, social skills, symptom severity) longitudinally, both at the start of the study and at the end of each school year. Data on child outcomes in the educational system (classification, classroom placement, services received) will also be obtained annually. Observational data on classroom quality will be collected three times each school year.

Control Condition: Preschools in the original control group were provided with LEAP manuals and other training materials on family skills training, social skills training, and operating an inclusive classroom. Teachers in these classrooms did not receive any training from LEAP staff. Fidelity data from the original RCT indicate that these classrooms implemented far fewer components of the LEAP model compared to the classrooms in the experimental condition.

Key Measures: Child outcome measures include the following: Child Autism Rating Scale; Social Skills Rating System; Kaufman Test of Educational Achievement – Brief Form; Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales, 2nd Edition; Test of Language Development–4; Leiter International Performance Scale-Revised (Brief IQ); and report cards and/or Individualized Education Plans for data on classroom placement and support services. Quality of the classroom environment will be assessed with an observational protocol, the Professional Development in Autism (PDA) Center Program Assessment, previously developed by members of the research team.

Data Analytic Strategy: Hierarchical linear modeling will be used to answer the research questions about child outcomes in cognition, language, and social skills; the quality of the contemporaneous classrooms; and potential child mediating variables.


Book chapter

Dunlap, G., Strain, P.S., and Fox, L. (2012). Positive Behavior Support and Young People With Autism. In B. Kelly, and D.F. Perkins (Eds.), The Handbook of Implementation Science for Psychology in Education (pp. 247–263). New York: Cambridge Press.

Joseph, J., Strain, P.S., Olszewski, A., and Goldstein, H. (2016). A Consumer Reports-Like Review of the Empirical Literature Specific to Preschool Children’s Peer-Related Social Skills. In E. Barton, and S.L. Odom (Eds.), Handbook of Early Childhood Special Education (pp. 179–197). New York: Springer. doi:10.1007/978–3–319–28492–7_11

Strain, P.S., and Bovey, E. (2015). The Power of Preschool Peers to Influence Social Outcomes for Children With Special Needs. In K.R. Harris, and L. Meltzer (Eds.), The Power of Peers: Enhancing Learning, Development, and Social Skills (pp. 288–316). New York: Guilford Press.

Strain, P.S., Barton, E., and Bovey, T. (2014). Evidence-Based Practices for Infants and Toddlers With Autism Spectrum Disorders. In H.M. Walker, and F.M. Gresham (Eds.), Handbook of Evidence-Based Practices for Emotional and Behavioral Disorders: Applications in Schools (pp. 475–502). New York: Guilford Press.

Book chapter, edition specified

Strain, P.S., and Bovey, E.H. (2015). Promoting Peer Relations for Young Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder: The LEAP Preschool Experience. In S. Madrid, D.E. Fernie, and R. Kantor (Eds.), Reframing the Emotional Worlds of the Early Childhood Classroom (1st ed., pp. 177–190). New York: Routledge.

Journal article, monograph, or newsletter

Strain, P.S., Schwartz, I., and Barton, E. (2012). Providing Interventions for Young Children With Autism Spectrum Disorders: What We Still Need to Accomplish. Journal of Early Intervention, 33(4): 321–332. doi:10.1177/1053815111429970