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Adaptive Behavior and Skills:
Professional Standards,
Assessment, and Uses
Conceptual Foundations of
Adaptive Skills Assessment
Adaptive skills assessment has been important
in a data-based, decision-making model of
psychological, educational, social, and
rehabilitative services. A data-based, decisionmaking model is applicable for:
• assessing daily functional adaptive skills
• identifying deficits or problems in adaptive skills
• designing and implementing interventions for increasing
adaptive skills
• monitoring the effectiveness of adaptive skill interventions
An emphasis on adaptive skills, not merely
the more general concept of adaptive
behavior, is needed to better promote
functional development.
Adaptive skills comprise
everyday competence.
Adaptive skills are defined as practical,
everyday skills needed to function and meet
the demands of one's environment,
including the skills necessary to effectively
and independently take care of oneself and
to interact with other people.
Professional Standards
Governing Adaptive Assessment
Adaptive skills have been closely
tied to mental retardation.
Deficits in adaptive skills, in addition to
subaverage intelligence, have been included as
part of definitions of mental retardation by the
The 1992 definition of mental
retardation from the AAMR placed greater
emphasis on adaptive skills than previous
AAMR definitions:
“Mental retardation refers to substantial limitations in present
functioning. It is characterized by significantly subaverage
intellectual functioning, existing concurrently with related
limitations in two or more of the following applicable
adaptive skill areas: communication, self-care, home living,
social skills, community use, self-direction, health and safety,
functional academics, leisure, and work. Mental retardation
manifests before age 18” (AAMR, 1992, p. 5).
Mental retardation is a disability characterized
by significant limitations both in intellectual
functioning and in adaptive behavior as
expressed in conceptual, social, and practical
adaptive skills. This disability originates
before age 18.
Implications of AAMR’s
2002 definition of mental
Limitations in present functioning must be
considered within the context of community
environments, including schools and homes,
typical of the individual’s age peers and
Within an individual, limitations often coexist
with strengths (i.e., studies that examine a
person’s pattern of scores is likely to reveal a
person’s relative strengths).
A person’s personal life functioning generally
will improve with appropriate personalized
education and support provided over a
sustained time period.
Adaptive Behavior is important to
Current Neuropsychological Approaches
• lesion guessing game is over due to neuroimaging
• new focus: the impact of cerebral dysfunction on
executive and adaptive skills
Although adaptive skills traditionally have
been associated with mental retardation,
adaptive skills are important for all
individuals, including individuals with
disabilities or with other mental, physical,
and social difficulties.
Adaptive skills should be assessed routinely
for individuals who have difficulties that
could interfere with daily functioning.
For example, individuals with the
following difficulties may have
problems with daily functioning. Adaptive
skills assessment may provide important
information for diagnosis and in planning
treatment or other interventions:
developmental delays
social-emotional disorders
attention disorders
behavior disorders
brain disorders and injuries
sensory or motor impairment
learning disorders and disabilities
Adaptive Behavior Assessment
Adaptive skill measures should assess a
comprehensive range of skills. AAMR
identifies 10 adaptive skill areas. The ABASII assesses these 10 plus motor development.
Speech, language, and listening skills needed
for communication with other people,
including vocabulary, responding to
questions, conversation skills, etc.
Community Use
Skills needed for functioning in the
community, including use of community
resources, shopping skills, getting around in
the community, etc.
Functional Academics
Basic reading, writing, mathematics, and other
academic skills needed for daily, independent
functioning, including telling time,
measurement, writing notes and letters, etc.
Home Living
Skills needed for basic care of a home or
living setting, including cleaning,
straightening, property maintenance and
repairs, food preparation, performing
chores, etc.
Health and Safety
Skills needed for protection of health and to
respond to illness and injury, including
following safety rules, using medicines,
showing caution, etc.
Skills needed for engaging in and planning
leisure and recreational activities, including
playing with others, engaging in recreation at
home, following rules in games, etc.
Skills needed for personal care including
eating, dressing, bathing, toileting, grooming,
hygiene, etc.
Skills needed for independence,
responsibility, and self-control, including
starting and completing tasks, keeping a
schedule, following time limits, following
directions, making choices, etc.
Skills needed to interact socially and get along
with other people, including having friends,
showing and recognizing emotions, assisting
others, and using manners.
Skills needed for successful functioning and
holding a part-time or full-time job in a work
setting, including completing work tasks,
working with supervisors, and following a
work schedule.
Motor Skills
Fine and Gross Motor Development is
included in the ABAS–II for children
ages 0–5
The Conceptual skill domain includes:
Functional Academics
The Social skill domain includes:
Social Skills
The Practical skill domain includes:
Home/School Living
Community Use
Health and Safety
Motor skill scores
contribute to the General Adaptive
Composite but not to the adaptive
Thus, one can utilize data from each of the
10 adaptive skill areas, three adaptive skill
domains (i.e., Conceptual, Social, and
Practical skills ) and the General Adaptive
Composite (GAC).
Assessment within a databased, decision-making model
Assessment within a data-based,
decision-making model attempts to link
assessment with interventions and other
needed services.
The use of assessment to diagnose is not
Traditional and current
trends in assessment
Assumptions about behavior:
• Traditional: Behavior is stable.
• Current: Behavior is dynamic.
Assumptions about focus of assessment:
• Traditional: Past and present
• Current: Present and future
Assumptions about the
assessment process
• Use paper/pencil
• Test simulated outcomes
• Judge attainment in light
of behavioral objectives
• Emphasize summative
• Use multi-sources, methods,
and traits displayed in
multiple settings
• Test authentic outcomes
• Judge attainment in light of
developmental outcomes
• Emphasize formative
Comprehensive assessment
within a data-based, decision-making
model includes:
Multiple domains
Multiple environments
Across time
Multiple methods
Multiple sources of information
The use of rating scales is just one method
of assessment within a data-based,
decision-making model.
Rating Scale Advantages
• allow for a comprehensive assessment of a large number of
adaptive skills
• involve important informants in the assessment process.
• obtain information from multiple perspectives and multiple
sources of information.
• focus on adaptive skills occurring in naturalistic settings.
• provide information about what a client actually does and
how often he or she does it when needed at home, school,
community, and work settings
• considered to be one of the most valid, practical, and
efficient techniques for assessing adaptive skills.
Rating Scale Limitations
• Ratings for individual items reflect a summary of the relative
frequency, rather than exact frequency, of the client’s skills.
• Ratings reflect respondent’s standards for skills that may
differ from respondent to respondent and setting to setting.
• Thus, use of multiple respondents assists in providing
information from different perspectives.
• Respondent’s ratings may be influenced by characteristics of
the client (e.g., appearance, ability, background) other than
the trait being assessed.
• Ratings reflect the respondent’s perceptions and honesty in
communicating these perceptions.
Selection of
Adaptive Behavior Scales
• There are a number of adaptive behavior scales with good
psychometric and clinical properties.
• For each individual client, professionals should select the
instrument(s) in light of a client’s characteristics and
purposes of assessment.
Overview of the Adaptive
Behavior Assessment
System–II (ABAS–II)
ABAS–II is based on three
sources of information:
• A conception of adaptive skills promoted for many years by
the American Association on Mental Retardation (1992,
• Legal and professional standards applicable to a number of
special education and disability classification systems, such
as state special education regulations, IDEA (Department of
Education,1997), and DSM–IV–TR (2000);
• Research investigating diagnosis and intervention for
people with various disabilities.
The three sources of information are uniform in their
conclusion that every person requires a repertoire of skills in
order to meet the daily demands and expectations of his or her
General Description
• Assesses the 10 areas of adaptive skills specified by AAMR
(1992, 2002).
• Measures adaptive skills in the multiple environments in which
individuals of various ages may participate, including home,
school, community, and work settings.
• Multi-informant—Provides separate forms for parents,
teachers, and adults. Users of the instrument may elect to use
one or some combination of the three rating forms, depending
on their needs of assessment.
• Norms for ages 0–89 were established using large
standardization samples stratified according to 1999 and
2000 census data.
• Each form is designed in a checklist format that can be
completed by a teacher/daycare worker, parent, or adult.
• The ABAS–II can be completed in about 15–20 minutes
and scored in about 5 minutes.
• Separate scores are provided for each of the 10 areas of
adaptive skills and three domains, facilitating analysis of
strength and weakness across these areas.
• A General Adaptive Composite also is provided.
• To provide a comprehensive, norm-referenced assessment of
adaptive skills for diagnosis, classification, and planning
• To assist in the assessment of individuals with known or
suspected difficulties in daily adaptive skills needed to
function effectively in their environment, especially
individuals with mental retardation.
• To assist in the assessment of individuals with known or
suspected disabilities in other areas, including learning,
behavior, medical, psychological, and neuropsychological
• To assist in program planning.
• To assist in research, program monitoring, and evaluation.
Parent/Primary Caregiver
Form (Ages 0–5)
The infant-preschool version of the parent form may be
completed by parents or other primary-care providers of
children ages birth to 5 years.
This form is available in Spanish.
Parent Form (Ages 5–21)
The school-age version of the parent form may be completed
by parents or other primary-care providers of children in
grades kindergarten (K)–12 or ages 5–21 years.
This form is available in Spanish.
Teacher/Day Care Provider Form
(Ages 2–5)
The infant-preschool version of the teacher form may be
completed by teachers, teacher’s aides, daycare instructors,
and other daycare or child-care providers of children ages
2–5 years.
Teacher Form (Ages 5–21)
The school-age version of the teacher form may be
completed by teachers or teacher’s aides of students in
grades K–12 or ages 5–21 years.
Adult Form (Ages 16–89)
There is one rating form for adults ages 16–89 years. It can
be completed by self or others
The Parent, Teacher, and Adult forms
are completed independently by
respondents. Items may be read to the
respondent if he or she does not have the
reading skills to complete the rating
scale independently.
A respondent typically completes the
ABAS-II by reading the instructions and
responding to each item.
Some adaptive skills are more
important or observable in some
settings and by some respondents more
than others. Thus, the five forms are
designed to assess the adaptive
skills most relevant for the specific setting
and type of respondent.
The ABAS-II allows you to use one or more
informants, depending on the needs for an
adaptive skills assessment.
For a school-age child, both the Parent and Teacher
Forms may be completed to obtain ratings from two
types of important informants, parents and teachers,
about the child’s daily adaptive skills.
• For a 30-year-old client, the Adult Form may be
completed by three different informants: the client
himself or herself, a family member, and a work
supervisor or caregiver.
Select respondents using
the following guidelines.
• The Parent Form should be completed by parents and other
primary care-providers. Care-providers should be living with the
child and familiar with the daily activities.
• The Teacher/Day Care Form should be completed by teachers and
other school personnel. The respondent should be familiar with
the child’s adaptive skills in a structured classroom and school
• The Adult Form should be completed by informants for adults.
Informants may include family members, supervisors, careproviders, and others familiar with the daily activities of the
client. For higher functioning clients, the respondent may be the
client himself or herself.
Respondents generally should
have the following
• frequent contact with the client, for example, almost
• contacts of long duration, for example, several hours for
each contact
• recent contact, for example, over the past 1–2 months
• opportunities to observe the variety of skills measured by
the ABAS–II.
ABAS-II Reliability
Internal Consistency
Reliability coefficients for the GAC are in the
high.90s for all age groups, ranging from .98 to .99.
Average reliability coefficients of the adaptive skill
areas across age groups are typically in the .90s,
ranging from .86 to .97.
Test-Retest Reliability
Test-retest reliability coefficients of the GAC are all
in .90s. The mean GAC scores of the two testing (in
a 1- to 2-week period) are also very consistent, with
the mean retest scores slightly higher. As expected,
the test-retest reliability coefficients of 10 adaptive
skill areas are slightly lower, mainly in .80s to .90s.
Inter-Rater Reliability :
Teacher Form-Ratings by
Two Teachers
Inter-rater reliability coefficients on the GAC scores
are .91 for students between ages 5 and 9, .87 for
students between ages 10 and 21, and .89 for
students from all ages. The inter-rater reliability
coefficients for the adaptive skill areas generally
were in the .60 to.70s.
Inter-Rater Reliability:
Parent Form-Ratings by
Both Parents
The inter-rater reliability coefficients on the GAC
scores are .83 to .85 for both age groups (ages 5–11
and 12–21) and the overall sample. The inter-rater
reliability coefficients for the adaptive skill areas
generally are in the .60s to .70s.
Inter-Rater Reliability:
Adult Form-Ratings by
Two Adult Informants
The inter-rater reliability coefficients on the GAC
scores are .90 without the Work Scale and .93 with
the Work Scale. The inter-rater reliability
coefficients for the adaptive skill areas generally are
in the .80s. (Correlations corrected for variability in
Cross-Form Consistency:
Parent and Teacher Forms
The correlation between the teacher and parent rating
is .70 for GAC. The average scores differ by about 1
point. The correlation coefficients for the adaptive
skill areas generally are in the .60s to .70s. Mean
scores differ by less than 1 scaled score.
Cross-Form Consistency:
Adult Form with Self-Ratings
and Ratings by Other Respondents
The correlation between self-ratings and ratings by
others is .94 for the GAC (without Work Scale)
and .88 for the GAC (with Work Scale). The average
scores differ by about 1 point. The correlation
coefficients for the adaptive skill areas generally are in
the .80s. Mean scores differ by less than 1 scaled score.
ABAS–II Validity
Age Group Differences
All ABAS–II items display age differences (i.e.,
persons who are older tend to display the behavior
more frequently than those who are younger).
Intercorrelations among
the adaptive skill areas
Intercorrelations among the 10 adaptive skill areas
for the total sample generally are in the .60s.
Summary of Clinical Findings
• The ABAS-II can assist in validly assessing
individuals with various disabilities and disorders.
• Further research is needed with larger samples.
• Assessment of adaptive skills can provide
important information to a comprehensive
• Information on strengths and weaknesses in
adaptive skills may provide useful information for
program planning and monitoring.
Summary of Clinical Findings
The ABAS-II has good clinical sensitivity in
distinguishing (1) some clinical from non-clinical
groups and (2) individuals with mild and moderate
levels of mental retardation.
The mean GACs are significantly lower for clinical
groups than matched control groups.
Most clinical cases obtained GACs < 71.
Most clinical cases obtained adaptive skill scaled
cores <5.
The ABAS–II provides:
• current norms
• norms reflect the racial/ethnic US population
• consistency with current AAMR recommendations re:
diagnosis and treatment
• consistency with DSM–IV–TR criteria for mental
• comprehensive yet rapid assessment of adaptive skills
• does not require a parent or teacher interview
The ABAS–II provides:
• a guessing score
• greater coverage of infants, children, and youth
• a computer scoring system that allows score
profiles to be obtained quickly
• parent and teacher forms in Spanish
• evidence of relationships with the WISC–III,
ABAS’s Evaluation
(Journal of Psychoeducational Assessment, 21, 4, 390-396)
• The ABAS provides a truly comprehensive
assessment of adaptive skills as defined by the
AAMR and DSM/IV diagnostic criteria.
• The ABAS is psychometrically and theoretically
sound and can be used with individuals with from
ages 5-89.
• The standardization sample matches the most
recent 1999 census data but is limited to Englishspeaking US citizens.
Evaluation: continued
• Although factor analysis and reliability data
suggest the GAC score is the best representation
of an individual’s adaptive skills, information
gleaned from the scores in the 10 adaptive skill
areas can also be used to target specific areas in
which the individual may need intervention.
• The content, divergent, and convergent validity of
the ABAS strongly support its use.
16th MM Yearbook
• Developed from a sound theory and
empirical methodology
• Validity data are impressive
• Authors should be commended for
exploring the usefulness of the data for
intervention planning and progress
• ABAS-II data could strengthen most
comprehensive assessments
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