Preschool Autism Program Enlists Classmates to Teach Social Skills

The Learning Experiences Alternative Program for Preschoolers and their Parents, or LEAP, immerses children with spectrum disorders into classes with typically developing children who have been trained in ways to communicate and work with them. While the research underlying the program has evolved over 30 years, it has been gaining in popularity recently—roughly 100 preschools across the country now use it—in part thanks to positive results in a study that met the stringent criteriaRequires Adobe Acrobat Reader of the federal What Works Clearinghouse.

“Social relationships—the lack of them—are a defining characteristic of kids with autism,” said Phillip S. Strain, a professor of educational psychology and the director of the Positive Early Learning Experiences Center at the University of Colorado at Denver, who developed the program. “Young children have a powerful influence on each other. We’re leveraging that natural inclination to teach young, typically developing students to be persistent in their social overtures to autistic classmates.”

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