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Phillip S. Strain

Director, PELE Center/Professor, Early Childhood SPED

My Story

I began my career in the early intervention field not by choice. As a war resister during the Vietnam era, I spent a brief but enlightening six months in a federal correctional facility. When my "conviction" for refusing induction was overturned, I was assigned two years of alternative service as an early childhood special education teacher in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. I had graduated in psychology from Trinity University in San Antonio, TX and in no way was I prepared to teach. I quickly learned - on day one actually - that the purpose of my class was to preserve de facto racial segregation under the guise of special education. Stunningly ill-equipped, embarrassed, and humbled by my responsibilities I enrolled in my first education classes at Peabody College in nearby Nashville. The skills I acquired in these initial classes saved my psyche, inspired me to enroll the following year full-time, and made teaching a natural high! Over the next four years I completed my doctorate in Early Childhood Special Education, became committed to a life-time of scientific inquiry and found a particular passion for intervention research specific to young children with autism, young children with early onset problem behavior and children's social/emotional development.

Some highlights of my career include:

  • Publication of more than 300 scientific papers
  • Completion of several 25-year, longitudinal studies on the impact of early intervention
  • Development of the LEAP Model of inclusive services for young children with autism
  • Having the opportunity to work closely with extraordinary colleagues, including Sam Odom, Howard Goldstein, Diane Sainato, Barbara Smith, Mark Wolery, Carl Dunst, Scott McConnell, Mary Louise Hemetter, Lise Fox and Glen Dunlap

My Work at CU Denver

I direct the Positive Early Learning Experiences (PELE) Center in the School of Education & Human Development. PELE is comprised of the following research, development and clinical programs:

  1. Family-Driven Autism Services and Learning (FASL): Funded by Colorado's Autism Waiver to the Medicaid program FASL provides intensive services to families of young children with autism. Conducted in collaboration with JFK Partners at the School of Medicine, FASL clinicians utilize scientifically validated practices based primarily on the LEAP Model.
  2. LEAP - USA: This 4 year randomized trial is designed to assess the impact of LEAP's 2-year inservice coaching model on classroom practitioners and the children and families they service. Sites for the study are located in Colorado, Utah, Minnesota, Massachusetts, New Jersey, South Carolina and Florida.
  3. Prevent - Teach - Reinforce: This 4 year randomized trial is designed to assess the impact of a manualized approach to addressing serious, chronic problem behavior by children in grades K-2. This study includes several hundred children and their teachers in Denver Public Schools and Mesa County Public Schools.
  4. Technical Assistance Center on Social Emotional Interventions (TACSEI): This 5 year project is designed to help states develop the personnel preparation systems and accompanying infrastructure to adopt and sustain the use of evidence-based practices for children with significant problem behaviors. Model sites for this effort include District 51, Mesa County and Douglas County, Colorado.
  5. Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations of Early Learning (CSEFEL): This project is in its second 5 year cycle. CSEFEL supports local and state level implementation of evidence-based practices for children in Head Start and Child Care settings. The centerpiece of our work is the Pyramid Model of preventative practices around challenging behavior.

My Hobbies

My hobbies are best described as my passions. They include: hiking, skiing, bicycling, motorcycling and the best of all, hanging out with Abby, my Golden Retriever.

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