THE LEAP PROGRAM
LEAP LEAP is a multi-faceted program for young children on the austistic spectrum. It combined a variety of strategies such as Applied
Behavior Analysis, peer-mediated instruction, incidental teaching, self-management training, prompting strategies, and systematic parent training. It was developed by Phillip Strain in Pennsylvania for both children with autism and typically developing children. LEAP has the components of an integrated preschool program and a behavior skills training program for parents. Services include parent involvement and training. The program does not provide one-to-one intervention; instead, services consist of 15 hours per week of classroom instruction provided by a teacher and an assistant who implement the program with 10 typically developing children and 3 to 4 children with autism. A full time speech therapist and contracted occupational and physical therapists also work with the children in specially arranged classrooms designed to support child-directed play. The primary goals of the curriculum are to expose children with autism to typical preschool activities and to adapt the typical curriculum for the children with autism only when necessary. Independent play skills are facilitated by using peer models and by prompting, fading, and reinforcing target behaviors (Strain & Hoyson, 2000).
What does the research say about LEAP?
Approximately 36 single case study designs have been used to evaluate discrete components of the program that focus on social, communication, cognitive, and parenting skills (Strain & Kohler, 1998). The role of peer-mediated teaching in the inclusive educational settings offered by LEAP preschools has been a particular focus of this research (Kohler & Strain, 1999; Strain & Kohler, 1998). A large longitudinal research initiative is currently underway to examine the broader effects of the LEAP program. Strain and Hoyson (2000) reported on outcomes for six children who entered the program in 1982, at which time they all had scores on the Childhood Autism Rating Scale which placed them in the moderate to severe range. A range of standardised and direct observation assessments were used pre-intervention, post-intervention, and during follow up to measure long term and short term gains. At the completion of the program and again at age 10, the children were found to not meet the threshold required to be characterised as having autism on the Childhood Autism Rating Scale. Five of the six children went on to attend regular mainstream classrooms throughout their school years without additional support. However, Strain and Hoyson (2000) noted that the small number of participants, and the challenges associated with controlling for other intervention and learning effects mean that caution must be taken in interpreting these findings. Replication of these results and independent evaluation and testing of intervention is required before firm conclusions can be made in relation to the effectiveness of the LEAP program.
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