Special Education Assessments of Functional Abilities

Tests Designed to Evaluate Students' Life Skills

A child with disabilities with her family. Getty Images/Maskot

Functional Tests

For children with significantly disabling conditions, they need to have their functional abilities addressed before addressing other skills, such as language, literacy and math.  In order to master these subjects, students need to be able first to independently take care of their own needs: feeding, dressing, toileting and bathing or showering themselves (all known as self care.)  These skills are of great importance for the future independence and quality of life for these students with disabilities.  In order to decide which skills need to be addressed, a special educator needs to assess their skills.

There are several tests of life and functional skills. One of the best known is the ABLLS (pronounced A-bels) or Assessment of Basic Language and Learning Skills. Designed as an instrument for assessing students specifically for Applied Behavioral Analysis and discrete trial training, it is an observational instrument that can be completed through interview, indirect observation or direct observation. You can purchase a kit with many of the items required for certain items, such as "naming 3 of 4 letters on letter cards." A time consuming instrument, it is also meant to be cumulative, so a test book goes with a child from year to year as they acquire skills.  Some teachers of children with significantly disabling conditions will design programs, especially in early intervention programs, to specifically address deficits in their assessment.

Another well known and reputable assessment is the Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales, Second Edition. The Vineland is normed against a large population across ages. It's weakness is that it is comprised of parents' and teachers' surveys. These are indirect observations, which are really susceptible to subjective judgement (Mommy's little boy can do no wrong.) Still, when comparing language, social interaction and function at home with typically developing same aged peers, the Vineland provides the special educator with a view of the student's social, functional and pre-academic needs.  In the end the parent or caregiver is the "expert" in that child's strengths and needs. 

The Callier Asuza Scale was designed to assess the function of blind-deaf students, but is also a good tool for assessing the function of children with multiple handicaps, or children on the Autistic Spectrum with lower function. The G Scale is the best for this cohort, and is easy to use based on a teacher's observation of a child's function. A much quicker tool than the ABBLs or Vineland, it provides a quick snapshot of a child's function, but doesn't provide as much descriptive or diagnostic information.  Still, in the present levels of an IEP, your purpose is to describe the student's abilities in order to assess what needs to be mastered. 

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Webster, Jerry. "Special Education Assessments of Functional Abilities." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, thoughtco.com/special-education-assessments-of-functional-abilities-3110622. Webster, Jerry. (2020, August 26). Special Education Assessments of Functional Abilities. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/special-education-assessments-of-functional-abilities-3110622 Webster, Jerry. "Special Education Assessments of Functional Abilities." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/special-education-assessments-of-functional-abilities-3110622 (accessed July 30, 2021).