Early Achievements has its roots in a unique multi-method classroom-based early intervention program, known as Achievements, for children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) begun by Dr. Rebecca Landa in the 1990’s.
At that time, there were two primary ASD intervention approaches – discrete trial training and an unstructured play-based developmental approach. Both were administered in a 1:1 interventionist to child ratio. However, these approaches were polar opposites with regard to amount of adult-imposed structure, nature of reinforcement (contextually unrelated vs natural rewards), and degree to which ecologically valid events and interactions were leveraged as part of the intervention process.
In recognition of the need for children with ASD to build peer relationships early in life, the Achievements approach delivered intervention in a classroom-based setting, breaking stride with the status quo. In appreciation of the complex neuropsychological profile of ASD, Achievements integrated the best of applied behavior analysis and ‘developmental’ approaches. Achievements brought novel approaches to early intervention for ASD and other social and communication delays and disorders
Some of these innovations included mechanisms that:
- link children’s experiences across contexts,
- promote their memory of meaningful and relevant event sequences, and
- emphasize social and communication development while building problem solving and school-readiness skills.
Timeline: Development of the school-based Early Achievements intervention.
- A classroom-based early intervention program for children with ASD (ages 2-6 years) was started by Dr. Landa at Kennedy Krieger Institute’s Center for Autism as a clinical program known as Achievements.
- Dr. Landa made strategic adjustments to the Achievements intervention for use with toddlers with ASD based on new findings from her research that identified early ASD diagnostic indicators and learning processes. The intervention was renamed ‘Early Achievements’.
- Through a series of federal and foundation grants, Dr. Landa showed that the Early Achievements intervention had efficacy in a clinical setting.
- Funding from the federal Office of Education, Institute of Educational Sciences (IES), was awarded to Dr. Landa to translate Early Achievements into an intervention for feasible and scalable implementation in public preschool classrooms by teachers. Dr. Landa collaborated with public school administrators, teachers, and instructional assistants to refine the Early Achievements instructional strategies and design a professional development program that would enable teachers to implement the intervention accurately.
- With funding from the federal Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), Dr. Landa began to examine the effectiveness of an adapted version of the Early Achievements intervention in community child care settings. Early child care educators of toddlers with developmental delays were randomly assigned to be trained in the adapted EA intervention or to conduct their teaching as usual, without training.
- The IES pilot randomized controlled trial (RCT) study of the school-based version of Early Achievements was successfully completed. The data showed that teachers successfully learned and adopted the Early Achievements instructional strategies. Also, promise of efficacy was identified, indicating that learning was accelerated in preschoolers with ASD when their teachers used the Early Achievements instructional strategies.
- New funding from IES was awarded to Dr. Landa to conduct a larger-scale multi-state RCT to assess the efficacy of the Early Achievements intervention when implemented by community-based preschool teachers of children with ASD in inclusive and non-inclusive classrooms.
- The Early Achievements website was developed for use by educators, coaches, administrators, and parents.