Comparative Efficacy of LEAP, TEACCH and Non-Model-Specific Special Education Programs for Preschoolers with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Reviewed by: Antonia R. Giannakakos, Caldwell University

Boyd, B., Hume, K., McBee, M., Alessandri, M., Gutierrez, A., Johnson, L., Odom, S. (2014). Comparative Efficacy of LEAP, TEACCH and Non-Model-Specific Special Education Programs for Preschoolers with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 44, 366-380.

Why research this topic?

The Treatment and Education of Autistic and related Communication Handicapped Children (TEACCH) and Learning Experiences and Alternative Program for Preschoolers and their Parents (LEAP) are two commonly used educational models for teaching learners with ASDs. To date little research has been done to compare these specific teaching models to each other or to the nonmodel specific approach used in most special education classrooms. The TEACCH method emphasizes the use of structured teaching with accommodations (e.g., visual schedules) made to the environment to promote learning and engagement. In common practice TEACCH is often used with learners with ASD who are being educated together in a classroom that is separate from that of their peers of typical development. The LEAP method bases its approach on a blend of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) and research on the development of communication in early childhood. It includes children with ASD in classrooms with their peers of typical development, who model the behaviors targeted for intervention. The purpose of this study was to compare LEAP and TEACCH to each other and to non-model specific special education programs.

What did the researchers do?

The researchers in this study compared three groups of preschool classrooms that were already in operation and that met the researchers’ criteria for providing high-quality services: 22 classrooms using LEAP, 25 classrooms using TEACCH, and 28 non-model specific special education classrooms. A total of 198 child participants completed a wide variety of assessments at the start of the school year, before they received instruction in any of the classrooms, and again at the end of the school year. These assessments measured the child participants’ functioning in the areas of communication, social skills, and skill acquisition in other ar- eas. The researchers then used statistical procedures to combine the measures into seven domains: Autism characteristics and severity, communication, parent-rated sensory and repetitive behaviors, teacher-rated sensory and repetitive behaviors, parent-rated reciprocal social interactions, teacher-rated reciprocal social interactions, and fine-motor skills. They then compared the results in these domains at the beginning of the school year to those conducted at the end, and the researchers compared outcomes across the three kinds of classrooms.

What did the researchers find?

The researchers found that the children in all classrooms that participated in the study made gains in the areas of social, communication, and fine-motor skills regardless of the teaching model used. Gains were not observed in the area of reciprocal social interaction (via parent reports) for classrooms using a non-model specific approach. Parent and teacher reports of sensory and repetitive behaviors indicated that they did observe a perceptible change in their children regardless of whether they were receiving education in a classroom that used TEACCH, LEAP or a non-model specific approach. Overall, no differences were found between the models in regard to student gains over time.

What are the strengths and limitations of the study?

An important strength of this study is that it enrolled a large sample of children with ASD who received services in “real life” educational settings and who completed a comprehensive evaluation before and after these services. However, there are also several limitations to the study. The researchers used inclusionary/exclusionary criteria when selecting classrooms and children to participate in this study but only three of 78 classrooms were excluded from the study, which may suggest that the criteria may have been lax. However, if they did succeed in identifying top-quality classrooms, a limitation is that the non-model specific special education classrooms may not be representative of all real-world special education classrooms. This would be problematic in terms generalizing the results of this study, as the outcomes observed may not reflect what would be observed in typical special education settings. Additionally, participants were not randomly assigned to groups (i.e., LEAP, TEACCH, non-model specific). If readers access the actual data from the study, there are several large differences in the functioning of the children across groups before the start of the study and large differences in the amount of services provided to the different groups. It is difficult to accurately assess the outcomes of the study when the skills of the participants in each group are not similar to each other prior to intervention and if they received varying amounts of services. Data provided by the researchers do not show clear difference in the types of teaching practices and strategies used in each classroom. This similarity in the teaching procedures may suggest that any differences in the outcomes of the groups may have been an effect of other variables, such as the preexisting differences in the skills of the children in each group, or the amount of services and not in the teaching model used. The similarity in the gains across all teaching methods also suggests some of the gains observed may be a result of natural child development over the course of the school year and not an effect of the teaching method used.

What do the results mean?

Overall, children made gains regardless of the teaching method used, this may suggest that it was the commonalities of these models and not their differences that impacted student progress. Currently, there is still not enough evidence to recommend the efficacy of one of these teaching models over the other. As with all interventions for children with ASD, it is recommended that when weighing the value of one teaching methodology over another, parents and treatment providers consider the effectiveness of the model as demonstrated in peer reviewed research and the accuracy with which it is implemented .

Cite This:

Giannakakos, A.R. (2014). Research Synopsis: Boyd, et al. (2014) Comparative efficacy of LEAP, TEACCH and non-model-specific special education programs for preschoolers with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Science in Autism Treatment, 11(3), pp. 17-18.