A University of Miami initiative is one of the first to compare the reliability of two treatments for preschoolers with autism.
The project is the first part of a four-year project to analyze the comparative efficacy of preschool programs for children with ASD.
Scientists looked at two comprehensive programs for autistic children in preschool: the Treatment and Education of Autistic and Communication Handicapped Children (TEACCH) and the Learning Experiences and Alternative Programs for Preschoolers and Their Parents (LEAP).
The two models were chosen because they are well established and widely used in public school systems in the U.S.
Goals include developing and validating assessment measures to demonstrate that the classrooms in the study are actually implementing the teaching models at high levels of adherence. Those assessment tools would then be used to evaluate intervention programs for children with autism, all over the country.
“This is an important first step. We hope that the utilization of these kinds of fidelity tools will enable schools to more closely monitor the degree to which intervention methods are being delivered, relative to what the model intends,” said principal investigator Michael Alessandri, Ph.D.
“If these useful methods are adopted, parents will have a way to assess the quality of their child’s treatment.”
The study took place in 34 classrooms, during four months of the school year. A maximum of four observations were made in each class.
The findings may help explain differences in children’s responses to different intervention treatments, said co-author Anibal Gutierrez, Ph.D.
“If we can ensure that the different programs are all good programs, implemented at a high level of fidelity, then we may be able to attribute differences in outcomes to individual child differences,” said Gutierrez. “We could explain why children with a particular profile may benefit from one program over another.”
Understanding how closely an intervention model adheres to its intended plan may also help to scale up programs within the broader community, said Drew Coman, Ph.D.
“I believe these measure not only provide a brief guide to implement one of these treatment programs, but they also provide a way to see the strengths of a particular classroom as well as identify the features that may need a bit more support and improvement,” said Coman.
“Ultimately, these measures provide a means to conduct such evaluations, and will hopefully lead to more support for teachers, better classrooms, and ideally improved student outcomes for students with ASD.”
The findings are published online in the current issue of the journal Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders.
Source: University of Miami