Preschool Autism Programs

Little Feats/Big Leaps/Firstfriends

Little Feats/Big Leaps/Firstfriends is a specialized program for preschool children with autism. It was established in September 2000 and is a cooperative venture of the five local school districts in Muskingum County, Zanesville City Schools and Morgan Local Schools. The program was developed because educational leaders in the MVESC service area recognized that children with autism have unique educational, social and behavioral needs. As the number of children with autism increased dramatically, our educational system responded by creating this specialized program.

Our program consists of three classrooms offering a continuum of instructional options, from one-to-one intensive instruction to large group instruction and learning activities with typical peers. Depending on individual needs, children may spend all or part of their day in one or more of the three classrooms, as well as other regular or special educational settings.

Firstfriends Classroom

The Firstfriends classroom has one preschool special education teacher and one assistant. Emphasis is placed on teaching children with autism, Asperger's Syndrome and those on the autism spectrum basic social skills. It is designed for children who have progressed through the other autism settings, as well as less impaired preschoolers who need assistance developing appropriate peer relationships. Methodologies include direct instruction, social stories, role-playing, visual cues and peer mediated intervention.

Big Leaps Classroom

The Big Leaps Classroom has one preschool special education teacher and two assistants. It is designed for children who have developed some communication skills but need help developing classroom skills and appropriate peer relationships. It offers a variety of instructional paradigms, including natural environment training, verbal behavior training, highly structured, teacher-directed instruction, peer mediated intervention, small and large group instruction and limited one-to-one instruction.

Little Feats Classroom

The Little Feats is a classroom that uses intensive, one-to-one instruction. We use behavior technicians who are paraprofessionals who receive extensive training in autism and the methodology used in our program. The cornerstone of Little Feats is the use of applied behavior analytic (ABA) principles. Specifically, we use the applied verbal behavior approach (AVB). AVB is based on B. F. Skinner's theory of language and is designed to develop functional communication skills in children. Intensive behavior modification procedures are used to systematically motivate children and teach them a broad range of essential skills that every child needs. Emphasis is placed on teaching skills, such as attending, imitating, requesting, labeling, following direction, playing and interacting with others.

AVB has three instructional paradigms:

  • The discrete trials training (DTT) component is an intensive system whereby children are taught specific skills in a strict format involving prompting, feedback and reinforcement. Emphasis is placed on having children master individual (discrete) skills that can be used as a foundation for subsequent learning. The difference between traditional DTT and the way DTT is used as part of AVB is that skills are taught across categories and objectives rather than teaching one skill at a time. AVB also breaks language down into much smaller components in order to get children to start using language as rapidly as possible.
  • The natural environment training (NET) component uses the same behavior analytic principles as AVB but in a play setting. Children have some degree of control over the play materials they use. The behavior technicians incorporate the goals and objectives the child is working on into this play format. The idea is that children are learning during play time without realizing it.
  • The on-the-move (OTM) component is designed to provide teaching opportunities as they arise through the child's daily living experiences. At school, this may include such basic activities as walking down the hallway to the office or visiting the school library. The behavior technicians use the spontaneous learning opportunities to help children apply and generalize skills to real world experiences.

The IEP team (including the teacher, psychologist, AVB specialist, therapists and parents) determines the learning goals and the combination of instructional methodology appropriate for each child. In addition, curricular decisions are guided by the Assessment of Basic Language and Learning Skills - Revised (ABLLS-R). It is aligned with the Ohio Department of Education's Early Learner Content Standards, with additional curricular goals added to assure that the standards are being addressed.

For information on the Little Feats/Big Leaps/Firstfriends program, please contact Jim Khoury (jim.khoury@mvesc.org) or Julie Hartman (julie.hartman@mvesc.org).

Frequently Asked Questions

Who is eligible to receive services in the Little Feats/Big Leaps/Firstfriends Program?

The Little Feats/Big Leaps/Firstfriends is a preschool special education program operated by the Muskingum Valley Educational Service Center. It is a cooperative venture between the five local districts in Muskingum County, Zanesville City Schools and Morgan Local School District. Preschool children living in these districts who have been diagnosed with autism and have IEPs that indicate the need for the level of specialized education provided in the program are eligible to receive services.

Who makes the diagnosis of autism for the children served by your program?

Each school district is responsible for identifying children with educational disabilities including autism. MVESC provides evaluation and diagnostic services for all of the districts in Muskingum and Morgan Counties. Parents sometimes obtain evaluations from private providers and other agencies. This information is always taken into consideration by the child's evaluation team. When there is conflicting data, the team makes the eligibility determination for the program.

How many hours per week do the children receive services?

Children who are served full time in the Little Feats classroom attend up to five full days per week. Children in the Big Leaps and Firstfriends classrooms attend up to four full days per week. The length of time, number of days, and location of services that each child receives is individualized and specified in his or her IEP.