who is intellectually gifted. In addition, individuals vary along a number of other dimensions, such as levels of communicative ability and degree of behavioral difficulties. As a result, in working with a child with an autistic spectrum disorder, considerable expertise is required of the various evaluators. Evaluators must consider the quality of the information obtained (both in terms of reliability and validity), the involvement of parents and teachers, the need for interdisciplinary collaboration, and the implications of results for intervention. Coordination of services, including specialized assessment services, is important, as is facilitating discussion between members of assessment and treatment teams and parents (Filipek et al., 1999; Volkmar et al., 1999).
A range of components should be part of a comprehensive educational evaluation of young children with autism. These include obtaining a thorough developmental and health history, a psychological assessment, a communicative assessment, medical evaluation, and, in some cases, additional consultation regarding aspects of motor, neuropsychological, or other areas of functioning (Filipek et al., 1999; Volkmar et al., 1999). This information is important both to diagnosis and differential diagnosis and to the development of the individual educational intervention plan.
The psychological assessment should establish the overall level of cognitive functioning as well as delineate a child’s profiles of strengths and weaknesses (Sparrow, 1997). This profile should include consideration of a child’s ability to remember, solve problems, and develop concepts. Other areas of focus in the psychological assessment include adaptive functioning, motor and visual-motor skills, play, and social cognition. Children will usually need to be observed on several occasions during more and less structured periods.
The choice of assessment instruments is a complex one and depends on the child’s level of verbal abilities, the ability to respond to complex instructions and social expectations, the ability to work rapidly, and the ability to cope with transitions in test activities (the latter often being a source of great difficulty in autism). Children with autism often do best when assessed with tests that require less social engagement and less verbal mediation. In addition to the formal quantitative information provided, a comprehensive psychological assessment will also provide a considerable amount of important qualitative information (Sparrow, 1997). It is important that the psychologist be aware of the uses and limitations of standardized assessment procedures and the difficulties that children with autism often have in complying with verbal instructions and social reinforcement. Operant techniques may be helpful in facilitating assessment.
Difficulties in communication are a central feature of autism, and they interact in complex ways with social deficits and restricted patterns of behavior and interests in a given individual. Accurate assessment and