Life Skills Assessment: Charting the Journey to Independence for Students with Asperger’s Syndrome and Other Disabilities

At Mansfield Hall we’re passionate about the idea of destinations. Destinations provide us with a goal or end point. They help clarify what the finish line looks like. They illuminate a pathway; and they allow us to measure our steps along the way.Pathway

At Mansfield Hall, each of our students has a destination. While no two destinations are the same—just as no two students are the same—each one represents a student’s desire to live as independent and successful a life as possible. To help each of our students reach their full potential, we’ve developed the Pathway to Independence Inventory (P to I). This inventory is a comprehensive adaptive life skills assessment that helps identify specific strengths and weaknesses in four core areas of life: Learning, Living, Giving and Engaging. (More on why these four core areas were chosen in the next blog post: Think resilience).

An assessment tool without limitations

The P to I was developed after a lengthy search for an assessment tool that could provide us with a comprehensive understanding of our students’ current level of adaptive functioning. There are a large number of adaptive life skills assessments to choose from (the Adaptive Behavior Assessment System, the Scales of Independent Behavior – Revised, Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales and others), but every inventory we looked at had limitations or problems.

The primary problem we faced was that these inventories all seemed to target a more challenged population. The tools focused on very simple life skills our students had mastered long ago. The other problem was that these inventories missed a very important set of skills related to “Giving.” Giving skills allow each of our students to feel connected to something larger, enabling them to appreciate a more complex and full perspective of the world around them. Given these limitations, our only choice was to develop a tool that more specifically addressed our students’ specific needs and our program’s mission.

Adaptive skills for college life and beyond

The P to I was developed after an exhaustive review of the current research on adaptive skills. Simply put, adaptive skills demonstrate the ability of a person to match skills to their current environment and to change their behavior to fit the specific demands of any situation or task. The goal of an adaptive skills assessment is to determine the skill sets that are needed to address the situations or tasks students face in their daily lives.

Given that our students have a college focus, with the intent of establishing a successful career and a happy life after obtaining their degree, we needed to identify those skills that were necessary to help them achieve this goal. Not a simple task.

The research indicates that adaptive skills can generally be broken down into ten specific areas: communication, self-care, social, community use, self-direction, health/safety, functional academics, home living, leisure and work (Harrison & Boney, 199). By using these adaptive skill areas and our students’ general level of functioning as a guide, we were able to identify more than 100 specific behaviors/skills needed to successfully and independently learn, live, give and engage (our four guiding principles).

There are 47 specific behaviors essential to becoming an independent learner (using a planner, taking or accessing lecture notes, highlighting/analyzing text, class participation, etc.); 32 daily living skills (roommate relations, laundry, creating a shopping list, making an appointment, avoiding victimization, etc.); 8 giving skills (understanding diversity, researching volunteering needs, identifying what skills can be shared, etc.); and, 30 engaging skills (such as, reciprocal communication, relationships, leisure activities, tolerating differences of opinion, manners and dressing appropriately for the situation, etc.). All of these skills provide the pathway to help our students reach their destination.

Inventory informs student’s Life and Career Plan

At least once a year, we ask each student to complete a Pathway to Independence Inventory. Additionally, our team completes an inventory on every student and parents are asked to complete an inventory when their son or daughter is accepted into our program. Using this information, our team works with each student to create a Life and Career Plan (LCP). The LCPs are written annually and document the student’s end goal in each of the four core areas, the skills that require strengthening to reach that goal, and the services, instructions and supports necessary to help them along the way.

Essentially, the LCP documents the desired final destination, the pathways to get there and the checkpoints along the way to gauge progress. These plans become the guiding documents for all we do to help our students reach their full potential.

Destinations matter

By using the Pathway to Independence Inventory and the accompanying Life and Career Plan, we make sure we understand what that destination is for each of our students; the pathway to get there and the skills and support they’ll need to help them along the way. This process helps each of our students realize all of their possibilities and achieve all of their dreams at the journey’s end.

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