Description:  The LEAP Model (Learning Experiences and Alternate Program for Preschoolers and their Parents) is a program where children are included from Day 1 in preschool classrooms with their typically developing peers. The child’s peers are taught to facilitate the social and communicative behaviors of children with autism spectrum disorder. Families are also taught to apply behavioral strategies when interacting with their child on the autism spectrum. The methods they utilize include a) peer-mediated interventions, b) errorless learning, c) time delay, d) incidental teaching, e) pivotal response training and f) the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS).

Research Summary: Early single-case subject design studies documented that typically-developing peers could be taught skills to facilitate play and social interaction with children with autism. A recent study (2011) used a randomized controlled trial of the LEAP Model. This study showed that the group of children whose teachers received two years of coaching in the LEAP model performed better on some standardized measures such as the Mullen Scales of Early Learning than to the group of children whose teachers only received a manual outlining the LEAP model. To date, the LEAP model has not been compared to established early intensive behavioral treatment models.

Recommendations: The findings of the research suggest that peers require training to facilitate social interactions with children with autism. Additional research however is needed in the LEAP model as a comprehensive treatment program. Important next steps for research are replications by independent investigators and comparisons against established early intensive behavioral treatment models.

Selected scientific studies:

Strain, P., & Odom, S. L. (1986). Peer social initiations: An effective intervention for social skill deficits of exceptional children. Exceptional Children, 52, 543-551.

Strain, P., & Bovey II, E. (2011). Randomized, Controlled Trial of the LEAP Model of Early Intervention for Young Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education, 31, 133-154.

Related article:

Randomized, controlled trial of the LEAP model of early intervention for young children with autism spectrum disorders.

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