Interdisciplinary Assessment of Young Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Patricia A. Prelock, Jean Beatson, Brooke Bitner, Carri Broder, Amy Ducker

Reviewed by: Lauren Taylor

This article discusses an interdisciplinary assessment model originally developed and implemented in Vermont (Vermont Rural Autism Project (VT-RAP)) that focuses on family as a key component of evaluating and treating children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. The 3 key frameworks of this model include: Family Centered Care, Cultural Competence, and Strengths Perspective. The steps for the assessment process are as follows: (1) assignment of an assessment coordinator, (2) intake, (3) preassessment planning meeting, (4) assessment, (5) postassessment planning meeting, (6) report writing, (7) community follow-up meeting, and (8) resource notebook development.

Family Centered Care focuses on collaboration of individuals, families, and community as well as school-based providers, for program development, professional education, and service delivery. It’s centered around the notion that quality collaboration and Family Centered Care can be achieved by treating everyone with respect, communicating and sharing information with families in ways that are useful and affirming, and recognizing that all children and families have strengths. Cultural Competence allows professionals to involve families in ways that are meaningful through making an effort to recognize, understand, and respect cultural differences. This may include professionals engaging in training to increase the recognition of their own cultural beliefs and biases and reflecting on understanding of differences and integrating this understanding into the assessment process. It is important to bring those differences to light and find common ground among all participants. The Strengths Perspective focuses on the fact that all people and families have strengths. It is important for us as professionals to acknowledge the pain and challenges and work with families to determine strengths that will help build a bridge to solutions and healing. The Strengths Perspective fosters a trusting relationship where helpgiving is family directed and occurs in natural environments with natural supports (to the greatest extent possible). All types of knowledge should be valued and it’s important to recognize the strengths in children and their families and build on those strengths when planning intervention.

Once the framework is understood, the assessment process begins with the assignment of an assessment coordinator, who is responsible for facilitating the elements of the assessment process. Intake includes a face-to-face meeting in a location of the family’s choosing to gather pertinent information on the child and family. This information helps the team to understand the family’s value and belief system better and to collaborate with the family to determine its priorities. The preassessment planning meeting is an opportunity for the interdisciplinary team, community team members, and family to collaborate on an assessment plan so that everyone shares a common understanding of the goals of the assessment and related activities. The assessment follows the plan developed at the preassessment meeting and should occur in environments that are natural to the child (home, school, daycare, etc) and include observations and interactions, interviews with family and community providers, and thorough record reviews. The postassessment planning meeting includes all members and is designed to review assessment results and brainstorm key recommendations to address the priority needs of the child and family. After the postassessment planning meeting, the team will develop a working draft of reports that will be reviewed with family and community providers for accuracy and assures that questions raised have been answered. The community follow-up meeting is held to review the final report and create action plans for implementing the recommendations. Lastly, a resource notebook is developed with appropriate materials for the family and community providers to increase their knowledge of the diagnosis, intervention strategies, and available community contacts.

The model is designed to include the family and community based providers every step of the way. When focus is put on family strengths and the invaluable knowledge that families can provide about the lives of their children, it creates an environment where everyone can succeed.

Reflection: I chose this article because of its relevance to my work at the diagnostic center. So often I find myself going through the motions and just trying to get things done, rather than taking the time to give the families perspective the attention it deserves. When we have so much on our plates, and are constantly going through the motions of ‘meet, test, write report, meet’ it’s easy to get into the habit of gathering the necessary information to make ends meet, which often times is not nearly as valuable as gathering the information to address the primary concerns of families and caregivers. This study shows that when we put in the extra time and work to gather this information, it can pay off exponentially in the end. By including families and their concerns/perspectives throughout the entire process, they become more involved/receptive to interventions and carrying over strategies and implementing the work we are doing at home and in the everyday lives of their children. Not only this, but the framework provided in this process helps to create an environment where everyone feels heard and respected, and that is an environment where everyone wins, especially the child. As we know, only so much of what we do can be effective without the help and involvement of people outside the walls of the school building.

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5 thoughts on “Interdisciplinary Assessment of Young Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

  1. Laura Woodring says:

    I see an application in regard to IEP meetings. Our team makes a special effort to acknowledge, respect, and listen to families during our meeting process. It can be intimidating to approach a table full of professionals, reading from script. We try to meet the families where they are, and invite them to contribute in as many ways as possible. They typically have information that is helpful, but would be missed if we did not take the time to hear their story. It is collaborative, and we find that our families seem more connected to their student’s communication and learning when we use this model.

  2. Holly Hamill says:

    Understanding the families’ priorities is a theme that stuck out to me when reading this article. There are so many things that go into making up family dynamics. While we often read about being aware of cultural differences and patterns, it’s been a while since I’ve read something emphasizing the importance of gathering information about a family to determine strengths. Using the family strengths to help the child achieve goals makes a lot of sense. Also, recognizing the family’s pain and struggles definitely help to foster a relationship of trust.

  3. Aubrey Apel says:

    I love the theme of family centered care that we are seeing throughout these articles. The school setting is so student-centered that it is easy to forget about the students’ families. However, a great deal of parents leave the responsibility of their child to the school; they are hardly seen and not involved. It is in these situations that we can fall victim to the “out of sight, out of mind” mentality. It is our job as professionals to place value on respect, communication and sharing to keep these families, at least, educated, if not involved.

    The aspect of cultural competence is key as well. ELL students are becoming a huge portion of the population at my school, and I have seen first-hand how touched the parents are when they feel as if their families and cultures are not only accepted, but celebrated. This must remain a major focus as our school populations and dynamics change.

    I love the idea of a resource notebook! I wish something like this could be integrated in the school system. Honestly though, I do not think it is a realistic idea; I can hardly get my teachers to return interventions, let alone keep up with a resource notebook. What do you all think?

    Lauren, I love that you were so honest about “going through the motions”. I am guilty of that as well. We wear a lot of hats and have a lot of tasks to juggle, it’s easy to go into ‘zombie mode’. However, I completely agree that we need to remind ourselves to slow down and take the time to appreciate each family because collaboration is the best way to get the families invested and to find success!

  4. The model described in this article makes a lot of sense to me because communicating and sharing ideas with parents seems like the best way to treat the “whole” child. Over the years, I have noticed when parents feel heard and communication strategies focus on specific concerns they have, parents are more open to ideas and more likely to practice/implement at home. However, with that being said collaborating with parents can be challenging due to time and other constraints we have as school based SLPs. One way to address this issue is by having thoughtful conversations with parents during ARC meetings or parent-teacher conferences.

  5. The dynamic of a family plays a HUGE role in the development of children in general, but especially in children with ASD. As a school based clinician, I wonder how we could tweak this process in order to gain more insight from our self-contained teachers in order to better plan intervention? The classroom dynamic ends up being like somewhat of a ‘family,’ and we can get better carryover of targeted communication skills if we are able to tailor our goals to the unwritten interpersonal goals of the classroom.

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