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The Watson Institute LEAP Preschool Program Celebrates 30 Years

LEAP Preschool students enjoy group activities using iPads, demonstrating one of the main goals of the LEAP program: enhancing the skills of children with autism through interaction and play with typically developing peers.LEAP Preschool students enjoy group activities using iPads, demonstrating one of the main goals of the LEAP program: enhancing the skills of children with autism through interaction and play with typically developing peers.
In September of 1981, Phillip S. Strain, Ph.D., then Associate Professor at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, authored the original grant that funded the development of LEAP Preschool in Pittsburgh. LEAP stands for Learning Experiences: An Alternative Program for Preschoolers and Parents. The LEAP classroom was designed as a high quality setting for typically developing preschool children and children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Inclusion for children with ASD began full-time from day 1 in LEAP. Curriculum adaptations, modifications, prompting and general support to participate immediately helped all students to increase social and pre-academic skills.

In 1995 the LEAP program came to The Watson Institute along with Marilyn Hoyson, Ph.D. as Program Director and a staff of experts in working with children with ASD. Today, in addition to the original here at Watson, there are about 100 LEAP classrooms across the USA. Dr. Hoyson is now Chief Operating Officer of The Watson Institute.
This year Dr. Strain released the results of a two -year study funded by a grant from the Institute for Educational Sciences, U.S. Department of Education to the University of Colorado Denver for a randomized, controlled trial of the LEAP model. The study observed nearly 300 preschool students to determine whether there is a difference between inclusive classrooms where teachers receive LEAP instruction manuals and classrooms where teachers receive intense training in the LEAP model. The study showed that although children in both groups made progress, children in the LEAP program with intensely trained teachers made much more progress in terms of cognitive, language and social skills as well as improvements in problem behaviors.

The study confirms that the LEAP model continues to be effective after 30 years. "We all believe in everything we do in the LEAP program" said Dr. Hoyson. "And this study just verifies it."

For more information on programs and services at The Watson Institute, call (412) 741-1800 or visit our website at www.thewatsoninstitute.org.

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