Differing Progressions of Cognitive Skill Development for Students with Additional Learning Needs and Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Year: 2010

Author: Roberts, Eileen, Griffin, Patrick

Type of paper: Refereed paper

The aim of this paper is to present the results of an analysis designed to investigate the suitability of a cognitive skills instrument for students with additional learning needs. The SWANs cognitive skills instrument was developed in consultation with expert panels of special education teachers to measure the cognitive skills required by these students to productively function in their learning environment. Teachers from 52 mainstream and specialist schools completed the instruments in the form of an observation survey, to describe the learning of 661 students with additional learning needs and ranging in age from 3 to 18 years and over. This meant that students did not need to sit tests or participate directly in the assessment process. Rather, their current level of proficiency in foundational learning skills, such as attention, memory and executive functioning, was observed and described on a survey by their classroom teachers. Using Rasch partial credit modelling (Masters, 1982), analysis of person fit statistics suggested irregular patterns of teacher response to the survey items for students described as autistic (n=257). The student sample was separated into those with an intellectual disability and those with autism spectrum disorder and the data re-analysed for these two groups of students. The analysis revealed some differences in the difficulty order hierarchy of cognitive skill emergence for students described as autistic compared to those with an intellectual disability. Following procedures described by Griffin, Gillis and Calvitto (2004), the emergence of skills was investigated by an expert panel of special education teachers for clusters or themes that could be used to develop generalised progressions of skill emergence for reporting purposes. While there were overall similarities between the emergence of skills for each group, some specific areas of strengths and weaknesses for students with autism spectrum disorder became apparent. This suggested the possibility of reporting two different and interpretable progressions of cognitive skill development: one for students with an intellectual disability and one for those with autism spectrum disorder. This paper discusses these results and how the analyses were used to build reports that allow teachers to consider their pedagogical practices and intervention plans for these students within a developmental learning paradigm.