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Educating Children with Autism
appropriately to environmental demands. A significant discrepancy between IQ and the level of adaptive skills or between observed performance in a highly structured situation and in more typical situations indicates that an explicit focus on acquisition and generalization of adaptive skills is important. For a diagnosis of mental retardation, assessment of adaptive level is required.
Assessment of adaptive functioning is particularly important for children with autism for several reasons. First, measures of a child’s typical patterns of functioning in familiar and representative environments, such as the home and the school, can be obtained. Assessment of adaptive skills provides a measure of a child’s ability to generalize teaching across settings; given the nature of the cognitive difficulties in generalization in autistic spectrum disorders, such assessments are especially important. As with other children with developmental difficulties, acquisition of basic capacities for communication, socialization, and daily living skills are important determinants of outcome. Significant discrepancies, for example, between performance in a highly structured setting and in less structured settings, or between intellectual skills and adaptive abilities, indicate the importance of including an explicit focus on teaching such skills and encouraging their generalization across settings. Adaptive skills may be in marked contrast to a child’s higher ability to perform in one-on-one teaching situations or in highly structured behavioral programs.
Second, assessment of adaptive behaviors can be used to target areas for skills acquisition. Third, there is some suggestion that relatively typical patterns of performance in autistic spectrum disorders can be identified and that some aspects of adaptive assessment (e.g., of social skills) can contribute to a diagnostic evaluation (Carter et al., 1998; Loveland and Kelley, 1991). This can be especially important in high-functioning children, in whom IQ scores may not reflect the ability to function independently in natural environments. Fourth, assessment of adaptive skills, as well as of intellectual ability, is essential in documenting the prevalence of associated mental retardation and, thus, eligibility for some services (Sparrow, 1997).
The Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales (Sparrow et al., 1984) are the most widely used instruments to assess adaptive skills (Harris and Handleman, 1994). The Vineland assesses capacities for self-sufficiency in various domains such as communication (receptive, expressive and written language), daily living skills (personal, domestic and community skills), socialization (interpersonal relationships, play and leisure time and coping skills), and motor skills (gross and fine). A semistructured interview is administered to a parent or other primary caregiver; the Vineland is available in four editions: a survey form to be used primarily as a diagnostic and classification tool for normal to low-functioning children or adults, an expanded form for use in the development of indi-