PLAY Project: A Strategy to Enhance Relationships for Young Children with ASD
Nearly a decade ago, John Martin, Director of the Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities (DODD), encountered a group of early intervention providers in Ohio who were implementing a form of intervention for young children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) called the PLAY Project. Taking his cues from these early adopters of the intervention, Director Martin began casting a vision for what would become a system-wide approach to early intervention and autism. Starting in May 2011, in a collaborative effort between DODD, the PLAY Project and the Ohio Center for Autism and Low Incidence (OCALI), certification trainings were offered one time a year for interested early intervention service providers from Ohio's County Boards of Developmental Disabilities, which are agencies offering services to children and adults with developmental disabilities.
The first training in May 2011 would launch what would become PLAY Project's first adventure into implementing the model into a statewide system of early intervention. Certification trainings would be held annually thereafter, and since then nearly 200 early intervention providers have been trained in the PLAY Project model.
The decision to implement this particular model was a result of needing to provide timely, fiscally-responsible, and developmentally-appropriate interventions to children under the age of three with ASD in Ohio's Part C system.
What is the PLAY Project?
The PLAY Project is a parent-mediated autism intervention model designed to help improve outcomes for children with autism spectrum disorder, particularly a child's ability to engage socially and emotionally. The term “PLAY Project” can refer to three separate components:
- An evidenced-based autism early intervention program.
- A set of principles, methods, and techniques used to improve autism symptoms.
- An organization that provides professional training and development.
Dr. Richard Solomon, a developmental-behavioral pediatrician, developed the program as a direct result of lack of availability of intensive early intervention services for young children with ASD, particularly services that were practical and affordable. Dr. Solomon and his staff, currently headquartered in Ann Arbor, Michigan, provide training to child development professionals who then help parents and caregivers build an engaged relationship with their child. Specifically, within the framework of Ohio's system, Dr. Solomon and his team have trained Part C early intervention (EI) service providers through the County Boards of Developmental Disabilities. These EI providers are typically developmental specialists, social workers, speech-language pathologists, occupational therapists, or physical therapists.
These child development professionals, or “trainees” or “trainees-in-process” as they are referred to within this context, undergo an initial face-to-face training, followed by approximately 18-24 months of follow-up supervision and online coursework, provided by PLAY Project Supervisors and staff. Trainees are expected to submit 15-20 videos of home visit sessions with a family, showcasing the trainee interacting with, coaching and modeling the PLAY Project methods and techniques with the caregivers. These videos are then reviewed and scored by Supervisors. Trainees are also expected to complete a combination of online case study exams, as well as participate in group supervision sessions. Once all of the necessary items are completed and the body of work submitted by the trainee is approved by PLAY Project staff, a trainee is then considered a certified PLAY Project Consultant.
Evaluation of PLAY Project in Ohio and Important Findings
In September 2014, to evaluate the implementation of the PLAY Project training model and its impact on children and families in Ohio, DODD commissioned the Family Child Learning Center (FCLC) to complete a thorough, comprehensive analysis of the project. FCLC is a community-based program of Akron Children's Hospital, and was selected to complete the evaluation after a request for proposal process.
This study, which was released in October 2015, focused on the implementation of the PLAY Project training model, as well as the intervention's impact on families and children. The original proposal outlined the following key areas:
- The context and background of the PLAY Project model and training:
- Summary of the latest research on effective intervention strategies for toddlers diagnosed with ASD.
- The history of the PLAY Project and its implementation in Ohio.
- Factors that impact implementation/adoption of new intervention approaches.
- Utilization of the PLAY Project model and training:
- Who continues to use the PLAY Project model and what defining characteristics are associated with continued utilization?
- Factors that contribute to ongoing implementation of the PLAY Project model.
- Factors that inhibit the ongoing implementation of the PLAY Project model.
- Effectiveness of the PLAY Project model and training per ratings of:
- Family self-confidence and competence and continuing use of PLAY strategies over time.
- Early intervention service provider self-confidence and competence and continuing use of PLAY strategies over time.
The team at FCLC completed an analysis of the project by obtaining a significant percentage of respondent feedback for wide representation across the state. The report included research that added validity to their findings. Their analysis showed that the PLAY Project has made a positive difference for families, children, and interventionists. It also revealed ways in which the project can be even more effective, including:
- Defining fidelity more consistently and clearly.
- Improving the consistency and quality of data collection.
- Improving the supervision process during certification.
- Better defining how the PLAY Project model fits into the statewide early intervention system.
- Strengthening local administrative support of trainees and consultants.
- Strengthening the ongoing support provided to certified consultants to help them maintain fidelity.
There is much to celebrate with respect to the impact PLAY Project training has had on Ohio families, children, and interventionists, and there are opportunities to expand this impact. DODD is committed to helping county boards of developmental disabilities provide an evidence-based intervention for families of young children with ASD, and the valuable feedback from this report will help us improve what is already considered an effective intervention.
A total of 65 counties either have a certified consultant residing in their county, or at least have access to a certified consultant through shared agreements among a regional group of county boards. This map features the counties who currently provide or have access to PLAY Project early intervention services.