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ASAP is an evidence-based intervention approach. The following projects were part of the development and testing of ASAP. Peer-reviewed publications resulting from these projects are listed below.:


Social Communication and Symbolic Play Intervention for Preschoolers with Autism (Joint Attention and Symbolic Play – JASP) – Funded by the National Center for Special Education Research; Institute for Education Sciences: R324B070056 Award Period: 07/01/2007-06/30/2011

Purpose: Deficits in social-communicative functioning are core diagnostic features of autism. Joint attention and symbolic play are theoretically posited to be pivotal skills that constitute the early foundations for social-communicative development. Researchers have found that the quality and quantity of young children’s social communicative behaviors is highly predictive of long-term developmental and functional outcomes. Few school-based interventions have been developed and tested that target these two pivotal skills. To address this need, researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill developed an intervention that targets joint attention and symbolic play in preschool-aged autistic children for use in public schools. The intervention program will has two primary content components (joint attention and symbolic play) and two primary context components (one-to-one intervention and classroom group activities). The purpose of this study was to develop and conduct an initial evaluation of this intervention.

Key personnel

  • Linda Watson, EdD (PI), Brian Boyd, PhD (Co-PI), Grace Baranek, PhD (Investigator), Betsy Crais, PhD (Investigator), Sam Odom (Investigator)
  • Other Key Contributors: Jessica Dykstra Steinbrenner, PhD; Sally Flagler, PhD; Michelle Flippin, PhD; Jessica Kinard, PhD; Heidi McGuinn Duncombe, EdS; Twyla Perryman, PhD; Tracy Williams Lenhardt, BS; Kaitlyn Wilson, PhD

Advancing Social-communication And Play (ASAP): An Intervention Program for Preschoolers with Autism (ASAP Efficacy Study) – Funded by the National Center for Special Education Research; Institute for Education Sciences: R324A110256 Award Period: 07/01/2011-06/30/2015

Purpose: The purpose of this research was to conduct a cluster randomized trial to evaluate the efficacy of the recently developed ASAP intervention. The major goals of the project included investigating whether children who experienced the intervention, when compared to those who did not, demonstrated greater gains in the proximal child outcomes of social-communication and play skills as well as the more distal outcomes of language development and engagement with classroom objects and peers. The study also examined whether child-level (i.e., developmental level, problem behaviors) and teacher-level (i.e., teacher burnout, general classroom quality) characteristics moderated the impact of the intervention, and whether the level of implementation fidelity mediated its impact on child outcomes.

Results: In this four- year, multi-site efficacy trial, classrooms were randomly assigned to ASAP or a Business-as-usual (BAU) control condition. A total of 78 classrooms, including 161 children, enrolled in this study. No significant group differences were found for the primary outcomes assessing generalized changed in children’s social-communication and play. However, children in the ASAP group showed increased classroom engagement. Additionally, participation in ASAP seemed to have a protective effect for one indicator of teacher burnout. For more information, see Boyd et al., 2018.

Key personnel

  • Brian Boyd, PhD (PI), Linda Watson, EdD (Co-PI), Grace Baranek, PhD (Investigator), Betsy Crais, PhD (Investigator), Stephanie Reszka, PhD (Project Coordinator)
  • Multi-site collaborators: Michael Alessandri, PhD and Anibal Gutierrez, PhD (Investigators, University of Miami); LeAnne Johnson, PhD (Investigator, University of Minnesota); Amy Donaldson, PhD (Investigator, Portland State University)

Promoting ASAP Collaboration through Technology (PACT): An Intervention Modification to Enhance Home-School Collaboration (PACT Development grant) – Funded by the National Center for Special Education Research; Institute for Education Sciences: R324A170151 Award Period: 07/01/2016-06/30/2020

Purpose: The purpose of this project was to develop and pilot test a web-based enhancement of the classroom-based Advancing Social-Communication and Play (ASAP) intervention to support collaborations between home and school. ASAP was designed to develop joint attention (i.e., shared attention toward an object or event with another person) and symbolic play (i.e., pretending), both pivotal skills for young autistic children. Although there is evidence that ASAP is efficacious, there is little evidence of generalization across school and home contexts. Further, providing a greater connection between the two settings may help to establish a more comprehensive assessment of the child’s needs as part of ASAP. This new website, ASAP at Home, was designed to generate individualized implementation recommendations based on child needs, and allow for electronic communication between school providers and parents who are implementing ASAP across school and home settings.

Key personnel

  • Brian Boyd, PhD (PI), Stephanie Reszka, PhD (Co-PI), Deb Childress (Co-PI)
  • Other Key Contributors: Linda Watson, EdD (Investigator), Betsy Crais, PhD (Investigator), Jessica Amsbary, PhD, Melissa Savage, PhD, Mei-Ling Lin, PhD, Ashwaq Alzamel, MEd, Amanda Bell, MA, Grace Meisner, MA, 3C Institute for Social Development

Making Professional Development Work for Preschool Classroom Teams Serving Students with ASD: Adapting a PD Model Using Normalization Process Theory (PD-ASAP Development grant) – Funded by the National Center for Special Education Research; Institute for Education Sciences: R324A200188 Award Period: 07/01/2020-06/30/2024

Purpose: This project aims to develop and test an adapted professional development (PD) model to be used with the Advancing Social-communication And Play (ASAP) intervention, which is an intervention that focuses on improving early social communication and play skills of preschool-aged autistic children. Research suggests that current PD models may not sufficiently improve educator practice and student outcomes or lead to sustained implementation. To address this, the project will iteratively develop ASAP Professional Development for Preschool Teams (PD-ASAP), which will be a model grounded in Normalization Process Theory, an implementation science approach used in complex health interventions. The PD model aims to be more feasible for preschool educational teams, more effective in changing educator practices (including ASAP implementation), and to enhance student outcomes. The pilot study will examine the impact of PD-ASAP on educator burnout, self-efficacy, and adherence to ASAP fidelity as well as on student classroom engagement, social-communication, and play skills. The pilot study will also include a cost analysis of the PD-ASAP.

Key personnel

  • Jessica Steinbrenner, PhD (PI), Stephanie Reszka, PhD (Co-PI), Linda Watson, EdD (Co-PI), Wanqing Zhang, MD, PhD (Investigator)
  • Other Key Contributors: Jessica Meredith, MA, Becky Dees, MA, Susan Szendrey, MA, Leslie Fanning, MEd, Rebecca Parkin, MA, Lee Anne Smith, MEd, Heba Elsayed, PhD, Yu Xie, PhD, Laura Kuhn, PhD


Amsbary, J., Alzamel, A., Lin, M., Savage, M., Reszka, S., Crais, E., Watson, L., & Boyd, B. (2021). Targeting social-communication and play skills for preschoolers with autism spectrum disorder. Young Exceptional Children.

Amsbary, J., Lin, M., Savage, M., Fanning, L., Reszka, S., Watson, L.., & Boyd, B. (2021). Engaging parents in the development and testing of a website to support social-communication and play development for preschoolers with autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Special Education Technology.

Boyd, B.A., Watson, L.R., Reszka, S.S., Sideris, J., Alessandri, M., Baranek, G.T., Crais, E.R., Donaldson, A., Gutierrez, A., Johnson, L., & Belardi, K. (2018). Efficacy of the ASAP intervention for preschoolers with ASD: A cluster randomized controlled trial. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 48(9), 3144-3162.

Dykstra, J.R., Boyd, B.A., Watson, L.R., Crais, E.R., & Baranek, G.T. (2012). The impact of the Advancing Social-Communication and Play (ASAP) intervention on preschoolers with Autism Spectrum DisorderAutism, 16(1), 27–44.

Dykstra, J., Watson, L.R., Boyd, B.A., Crais, E.R., Wilson, K., Baranek, G.T., Flippin, M., and Flagler, S. (2015). The iterative development of a school-based intervention: A researcher-practitioner partnership. Journal of Early Intervention, 37, 23–43.

Dykstra Steinbrenner, J.R., Watson, L.R., Boyd, B.A., Wilson, K., Crais, E.R., Baranek, G.T., Flippin, M., and Flagler, S. (2015). Developing feasible and effective school-based interventions for children with ASD: A case study of the iterative development process. Journal of Early Intervention, 37(1), 23–43.

Kinard, J., Wilson, K., Dykstra, J., Watson, L., & Boyd, B. (2011). Advancing Social-Communication and Play (ASAP): Development of a supplemental intervention for public preschools serving children with autism. Perspectives on School-Based Issues, 12, 91–100.

Reszka, S., Belardi, K., Amsbary, J., Watson, L., & Boyd, B. (2019). Fidelity of a teacher-implemented intervention for preschoolers with autism spectrum disorder: No, some, and unexpected effects. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education, 39, 56-67.

Wilson, K.P., Dykstra, J.R., Watson, L.R., Boyd, B.A., & Crais, E.R. (2012). Coaching in early education classrooms serving children with autism: A pilot studyEarly Childhood Education Journal, 40(2), 97–105.–011–0493–6