Young children with disabilities: Functional assessment by teachers
A number of limitations have contributed to long-standing problems of inappropriate categorization of children and inadequately defined populations in special education practice and research. Diagnostic ambiguity and overlap of categories have served to complicate communication about individual children and the design of appropriate interventions. There is a need for functional approaches to document child characteristics which build on conceptual models of disability and yield consistent terminology. This study examines the usefulness of assessing children's functional abilities as an alternative to existing categorical classifications in special education. The ABILITIES Index, a functional measure encompassing the domains of audition, behavior/social skills, intellectual functioning, limbs, intentional communication, tonicity, integrity of health, eyes, and structural status was scored for 108 children with disabilities receiving intervention services in center-based public preschools. Profiles for children revealed substantial intra and inter-individual variability. Exploratory hierarchical cluster analysis yielded a six-factor solution of subgroups sharing similar ability/disability profiles. Results supported the potential utility of an approach focusing on the classification of child characteristics rather than classification of children. Further research is needed to examine the utility of the ABILITIES Index to complement other assessment data in order to personalize intervention plans.