"EA has opened such a door for our students."

Mary Lou Haughney, Director, SPIN

One in six children is diagnosed with a developmental disability, including 1 in 13 with a communication disorder and 1 in 68 with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Most teachers will have a child with a communication disorder or with ASD in their classroom at some point. To maximize educational achievement and outcomes of young children with ASD and other social or communication delays, classroom instruction must be evidence-based and must target a core set of knowledge and skills that usually are not addressed adequately in existing preschool curricula. The Early Achievements intervention is an evidence-based approach to targeting such knowledge and skills in children.

Currently, most teachers learn about evidence-based instructional strategies by attending workshops. However, practice-based coaching also is needed to assist them in: (1) mastering the implementation of these strategies with students having diverse learning profiles; (2) aligning these strategies with their school’s existing curriculum; and (3) using these strategies to address their students’ IEP goals and accelerate child learning overall. The Early Achievements professional development program addresses these needs.

The explicit knowledge that teachers gain about the Early Achievements instructional strategies equips them to communicate more effectively with parents about what and how children are learning. This fosters parent-teacher alliance and shared expectations for children’s learning and behavior at school. Through the Early Achievements professional development program, teachers become powerful agents of student change in their classroom.

As teachers become more powerful agents of change in their classrooms, they see their students’ learning accelerate, and behavior improve. This, in turn, can be highly energizing and fulfilling to teachers and may reduce teacher burnout. Early Achievements (EA) helps to make the educational experience for teachers, children, and parents a more positive and productive one. The EA intervention provides a means by which administrators may ensure that a consistent instructional model is provided across EA trained teachers of young children (2 to 6 years) with ASD and other social or communication delays. The EA professional development program and associated teacher fidelity materials provide administrators a sense of confidence that their teaching staff have been well trained using an evidence-based adult learning model.

Equipping teachers with research-based instructional knowledge and skills is of the utmost importance for children's ability to achieve at school, and for administrators to ensure that the educational milieu established within their schools is excellent – for children and for teachers. This point was made well by DiPaola and Walther-Thomas:

"As instructional leaders, principals must understand and facilitate the use of effective research-based practices (Bateman & Bateman, 2001; CEC, 2001; NRC, 1997; Sage & Burrello, 1994; Turnbull & Cilley, 1999). Principals who understand effective practices and recognize the instructional demands that classroom teachers and building specialists face can provide more appropriate support to these professionals (Gersten et al., 2001; Gonzalez, 1996; Wald, 1998). Without a clear understanding of professional support needs (e.g., manageable case load responsibilities; professional development opportunities to hone teaming, instructional, and progress monitoring skills), principals may unintentionally thwart teacher efforts to provide quality support services for students with disabilities (Bateman & Bateman, 2001; CEC, 2001; Pankake & Fullwood, 1999; Sage & Burrello, 1994; Walther-Thomas et al., 2000)." DiPaola, M. F., Walther-Thomas, C. (2003). Principals and special education: The critical role of school leaders (COPPSE Document No. IB-7). Gainesville, FL: University of Florida, Center on Personnel Studies in Special Education.