Guest Author - Kristie Melkers
Children with disabilities use a variety of ways to respond to differences they have in how they interact with the world. These behaviors help them compensate for something they are experiencing, such as a decrease in functional ability—physical, sensory, or cognitive. It is worthwhile to get to know children by observing them in different settings to either support and build upon adaptive (useful) behaviors or to identify undesirable behaviors and the necessary strategies to help replace those behaviors with more desirable ones. This type of observation leads to the meaningful support needed to contribute and participate in school and in the community.
Adaptive behaviors include conceptual, social and practical skill sets. Conceptual skills are those that include literacy, self-direction, money and time concepts. Social skills deal with interpersonal skills, as well as skills in following rules and discerning social situations to avoid victimization. Practical skills are those that enable a child to successfully achieve personal care objectives like eating, dressing, bathing, going to school, functioning within the school setting, and using transportation.
Schools use assessments to measure a child’s current level of adaptive behavior. The Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales, AAMR’s Adaptive Behavior Scales, and the Inventory for Client and Agency Planning are examples of some of these assessments. They are useful in identifying a child’s current level of function so that the IEP team can see where there are either gaps in necessary skills or a clear cutoff to target with intervention. IEP goal writing is more meaningful when standardized assessments inform the team with data.
Not all adaptive behaviors are desirable. The ones that aren’t are called maladaptive. A few examples of maladaptive behaviors include rocking, hand flapping, or spinning objects. Some of these behaviors may isolate children socially from their peers. Parents and teachers can think about the function of the undesirable behavior and identify replacement behaviors that may serve both the purpose of coping and fit the social norms of the child’s classmates.
Assessing adaptive behavior is a valuable way to help form a meaningful educational program for children with disabilities. It is also an important way of recognizing student strengths, particularly for students who have cognitive disabilities. Adaptive behavior realms may very well be areas of relative strength that the team would be wise to develop for application towards post-school endeavors.
For more information on behavior, including positive behavior supports, functional behavior assessments, behavior plans and adaptive behavior assessments, please see the links on the special education homepage.