Academic Achievement Assessments
Achievement assessment is typically included in a full individual evaluation for any student considered for special education services. Careful evaluation of academic strengths and weaknesses can provide helpful information about academic and school success, as well as significant insight into factors (both general and subject-specific) that are having an adverse impact on academic achievement, including identification of learning gaps that have not previously been noted.
Adaptive Behavior Assessments
Adaptive behavior is a critical measure when assessing students who have or are suspected of having autism spectrum disorder (ASD) (Volkmar et al., 2014). This type of assessment assists in transition planning and may help ensure the student has the necessary skills to be productive when he or she has left the school environment.
Autism Screening and Assessments
Public schools are required by law to identify all children with disabilities, including those with autism spectrum disorder (AU) (IDEA, 2004). Early identification is key because early treatment leads to better outcomes (Dawson & Osterling, 1997; Eikeseth, Smith, Jahr, & Eldevik, 2007). Although it is often difficult to suggest to staff and parents that a child may have autism spectrum disorder, there is a significant risk associated with failing to recognize the disorder and provide intervention when it is present.
Assessing cognitive functioning in students identified with or suspected of having autism spectrum disorder (ASD) informs the DSM-5 (American Psychological Association, 2013) diagnosis in terms of assigning appropriate specifiers. Importantly, cognitive profiles are not “diagnostic” for ASD, but assessment of cognitive abilities and processes is helpful for enhanced understanding of individuals of all ages with the diagnosis (Gerber, 2015; Holdnack, Goldstein, & Drozdick, 2011). Within school-based evaluations, assessment of cognitive functioning can yield valuable data for understanding student strengths and needs, and potentially offering insight useful for multidisciplinary teams to use when developing comprehensive instructional programs.
Developmental assessments provide a method for gaining information about young or very low-functioning children’s cognitive abilities, as well as many other areas, including academic skills, motor skills, communication and language skills, social skills, and self-help/adaptive skills. The assessments in this category consist of screening instruments, criterion-referenced measures, rating scales, and norm-referenced measures, some of which can be completed by a teacher or caregiver or through direct interaction with the child being assessed.
Emotional and Behavioral Assessments
The majority of children with ASD are likely to have one or more comorbid psychiatric diagnosis (Salazar et al., 2015). Commonly co-occurring emotional and behavioral problems include anxiety, depression, disruptive behaviors, and ADHD (Saulnier & Ventola, 2012). In addition to most accurately capturing the overall functioning and needs of students, assessing behavioral and emotional problems is also important for developing successful interventions.
Functional Behavioral Assessments
Federal law requires functional behavioral assessment to be part of disciplinary procedures (manifest determinations). These guidelines apply to all students in special education, including those with ASD; however, there are many other times when determining the purpose or function of a behavior is beneficial.
Motor impairment is common among individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) (Aspy & Grossman, 2011; Nayate, Bradshaw, & Rinehart, 2005; Ozonoff et al., 2008; Siaperas et al., 2012). Therefore, a motor assessment is important to understanding the complex needs of an individual on the spectrum.
When assessing students with ASD or for suspicion of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), gathering multiple sources of data across all domains will best inform efforts to support the student at school. This section includes criterion-referenced measures that may be used to develop a curriculum and track progress, as well as a motivation and learning strategies.
Research suggests that sensory processing differences are prevalent in children with autism spectrum disorder.
Social and Relationship Assessments
Difficulties in social interactions are common for students with ASD and are, in fact, a core symptom area for the diagnosis.
Communication difficulties are common among students diagnosed with ASD (Saulnier & Ventola, 2014), and in fact represent the core of autism (APA, 2013). Social communication includes more than words and grammatical correctness. It includes such skills as back-and-forth social interaction, pointing, sharing information, conversation, perspective-taking, and understanding social situations.
Transition and Vocational Assessments
Conducting assessments that are related to transition needs or services is an important and necessary consideration for students identified with or suspected of having autism spectrum disorder (ASD), as with any disability identified under special education law.