History of LEAP Preschool Model

LEAP Preschool was started in 1981 by Dr. Phillip S. Strain. The program began as a federally funded (i.e., Handicapped Children’s Early Education Program) model demonstration program serving young children with autism and typical children, ages 3-5, within an inclusive preschool setting.  At the time of its inception, LEAP Preschool was one of the few early childhood programs throughout the country that was committed to inclusive practices for young children with disabilities and their families.

LEAP Preschool reflects both a behavioral as well as a developmentally appropriate approach for teaching children with and without disabilities within an inclusive early childhood environment.  Learning activities are selected based upon the needs, interests, and developmental levels of individual children within the classroom.  An integrated curriculum approach (i.e., designing learning experiences that promote children’s skill development across multiple domains) is used to provide opportunities related to all areas of development (e.g., social/emotional, language, adaptive behavior, cognitive, and physical).  Curricular activities are selected that encourage children’s learning through active exploration with concrete materials and interactions with other children and adults.  Individual children’s progress towards identified goals and objectives are monitored on an ongoing, systematic basis.  In addition, assessment of skill acquisition, maintenance, and generalization are conducted as a means of evaluating the effectiveness of instructional strategies.

Key Components of the LEAP Preschool Model

1) Inclusion: Inclusion begins full-time from day one in LEAP Preschool classrooms. Children with ASD are provided with the necessary level(s) of prompting, classroom and curricular adaptations and modifications, and general support to participate immediately in peer-mediated social skill intervention.

2) Classroom Environment: LEAP classrooms begin with establishing a high quality setting for typically developing children. LEAP has been implemented effectively in classrooms utilizing a variety of preschool models and curricula including, the Creative Curriculum for Preschool – 4th Edition (Dodge, Colker & Heroman, 2002), High Scope and Head Start programs. Systematic intervention is embedded throughout typical preschool routines (e.g., circle time, free play/centers, snack, small groups, etc) with the aim of offering hundreds of meaningful, socially relevant learning opportunities every day.

3) Peer-Mediated Intervention: Typically developing children play a major intervention role in LEAP. The typically developing children are provided with comprehensive social skills training such that they can facilitate the social and communicative behaviors of peers with ASD. This systematic, peer-mediated instruction has been shown to produce a day-one intervention effect for the children with ASD (Strain & Schwartz, 2009).

4) Data and Data-based Decision Making: Learning objectives are written such that teaching continues until generalized behavior change is achieved. Learning objectives are further described according to relevant prompting hierarchies. Program data are collected on children’s behavioral movement towards the rigorous standard of independent, generalized performance, not in terms of percent correct, trials accomplished or similar indices. Data are reviewed daily and strict decision-making rules demand intervention changes in the absence of clear behavior change.

5) Program Intensity:  Intensity in the LEAP model is not defined by hours per week that individuals are paid to deliver service. We believe that the algorithm defining intensity is complex and includes, for each developmental domain of concern, the following factors:

  • number of meaningful opportunities to respond;
  • the functionality of objectives chosen;
  • the selection of an instructional method that maximizes children’s engagement and minimizes errors;
  • the competence of staff to deliver with fidelity the chosen intervention; and
  • the use of data systems and decision-making rules that minimize children’s exposure to less-than-optimal interventions.

6) Use of Evidence-based Strategies:  LEAP is unique in that we utilize a variety of science-based intervention approaches, including: a) peer-mediated interventions; b) errorless learning; c) time-delay; d) incidental teaching; e) pivotal response training; f) picture exchange communication system (PECS) (Frost & Bondy, 1994); and g) positive behavior support. We believe the enormous heterogeneity of ASD precludes the use of one or a few instructional approaches.

7) Parent Skill Training: Skill training for families focuses on providing adult family members with the behavioral teaching strategies sufficient for them to experience less stress and more pleasure in daily routines such as meals, bedtime, dressing, and community outings. All LEAP sites develop a method for sharing information on key behavioral strategies with parents or care-givers.  Programs generally use one, or a combination of, the following strategies to share information, a) group parent training meetings, b) in-home visitation by program personnel, c) self-study modules with teacher follow-up.

LEAP Consultation & Training

LEAP Training is a comprehensive process that examines all aspects of the classroom environment, routines, teaching strategies and team functioning. However, we value the individuality of every classroom and every teacher, thus it is not our aim to change everything about your program.  LEAP Strategies and Procedures are all evidence-based, grounded in DEC’s Recommended Practices and in NAEYC’s Best Practice Guidelines and are also utilized as part of the Pyramid Model.  They are applicable to all children and all environments.   Our goal is to assist early childhood professionals in taking what they already do and building on it by helping you make adaptations and modifications to provide a Planned and Systematic approach to best meet the needs of ALL the children in your class.

To be considered as a training site we have a few criteria that must be met, each classroom must:

  1. Serve at least 2 children diagnosed with autism or that are in the evaluation process or are considered at-risk for a diagnosis of autism.
  2. Be an inclusive early childhood setting with at least a 2:1 ratio of typically developing (non-identified) children to children on IEPs. Children enrolled in Head Start or that receive Head Start funding are considered typical. The presence of typical children is crucial to the success of the social skills training component of LEAP.
  3. Have a minimum of 3 adults in the classroom at all times. Adults can include teachers, para professionals, special education team members (e.g., ECSE, OT, SLP, PT) and/or volunteers.

LEAP training is a 2-year process that involves a number of training components.  While we recognize that every district/program is different the general training components are listed below:

1.     Initial conference call/planning
2.     Initial training visit (2 days/yr)
3.     Follow-up/hands-on training visits using a Practice-Based Coaching Model (approximately 12 days/yr)
4.     Mid-year workshop (1/2 day/yr)
5.     Year End celebration (1/2 day/yr)

Training programs to fidelity is our primary goal.  Fidelity is measured using our LEAP Quality Program Indicators.  Once a classroom achieves fidelity (90% or better) on the QPI they are considered Certified LEAP Replications.  Certification is good for three years from the certification data.

For additional information on LEAP Training opportunities and costs please email Ted Bovey or call 303-871-3235.

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