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Calls to Action

Functional Assessment Tool for Transition Aged Individuals with ASD

State/Province Full: 
United States

In 2011, Autism Speaks was pleased to fund the creation of a Functional Assessment Tool for Transition Aged Individuals with ASD. The grant of $150,000 per year over two years was awarded to Peter F. Gerhardt, Ed.D., Director of Education, Upper School McCarton School, and Paul Wehman, Ph.D. Professor of Physical Medicine, Rehabilitation and Chairman of Rehabilitation Research with a joint appointment in the Departments of Special Education and Disability Policy and Rehabilitation Counseling at Virginia Commonwealth University. The assessment will lead to comprehensive transition planning for teams supporting students with autism spectrum disorders. The tool will help assess an individual’s ability to perform functional tasks, such as cell phone use or independent street crossing, with or without accommodations and modifications. The tool will account for pre-requisite skills for each skill set, as well as needed accommodations and modifications when those skills are not present. The challenges associated with the transition from school services to adulthood for individuals with disabilities are well documented. A key ingredient in changing this situation for students with ASD is having a transition assessment that leads to comprehensive functional community skill development in the final years of school. At the same time, when a student with ASD turns 14, this milestone signifies the ‘beginning of the end’ of public education under IDEA. This shift in focus necessitates a shift in assessment priorities. That is, instead of measuring what a student cannot do, it is time to measure the student interests, preferences, strengths, work habits, and describe supports and modifications necessary for the student to be successful in the future. While the employment support needs of individuals with ASD are addressed through community-based internships and work experiences through school, there are no such assessments or program elements that are addressing other aspects of community-based living. It is in this context that we are funding the development of a Community-Based Functional Skills Assessment for transition aged youth with ASD. This will be a criterion-referenced assessment of student skills in essential community domains including but not limited to: • Transportation • Banking and Financial Management • Recreation • Home Living • Self Determination and Advocacy • Social Communication, Socialization, and Peer Relationships • Health and Safety • Personal Care and Hygiene The assessment will include rubric-based, target skills sets that identify skill strengths and needs that will lead to comprehensive transition planning for teams supporting students with ASD across the spectrum. The tool will provide a listing of developmentally referenced community-based functional skills designed to assess an individual’s ability to perform functional tasks, such as cell phone use, or street crossing independently, with or without accommodations and modifications. Thus, the tool will consider pre-requisite skills for each skill set as well as needed accommodations and modifications when those pre-requisite skills are not present. Accomplishing the development of a functional community-based assessment tool for individuals with ASD will involve several stages. Initially, the project will review and analyze the current universe of community assessment tools readily available for individuals with ASDs as well as other disability classifications. Following this process, the next stage will involve item selection and drafting of the new tool. Once the draft tool is complete, an expert panel will convene to review the tool for changes and recommendations. Upon completion of this stage, revisions will be made and the new tool will be administered and validated with individuals with ASD in 4 to 5 nationally diverse sites. This stage of the process will likely involve enlisting the assistance of secondary special educators in public and private schools in geographically diverse states such as New York, Virginia, California, Texas, Ohio, and Illinois to name a potential few. The type of validity possible in the time period proposed is content validity. Specifically, pilot activities would seek to answer the following questions: 1. Does the tool target the most important skills for achieving functional independence in the community? 2. Is the tool easy for teachers and parents to use to assess the community needs of transition-aged students with ASD? 3. Does the information provided from the tool assist IEP teams in developing useful IEP target skills? 4. Is the tool helpful to the transition team in providing guidance regarding functional community skill targets for the person with ASD? In preparation for dissemination, the project staff will work with Autism Speaks to develop a dissemination plan. Project Staff would request that Autism Speaks play a pivotal role in dissemination of the tool including placing it on the Autism Speaks website, and participating in national live and internet-based training and dissemination activities. The last stage will include making final revisions to the tool and initiating knowledge translation and implementing the dissemination plan through a journal article publication, live and web-based training activities and other broad dissemination activities as directed by Autism Speaks. For more information about the Family Services Targeted Grants program, contact Serena Selkin, Family Services Grants Manager at or (917) 475-5059.