Although cognitive functioning is not part of the diagnostic criteria for autism, it is often a target for intervention planning and outcome evaluation. For treatment planning, this may be problematic because educators may develop intervention goals or make educational placement decisions based on perceived abilities, rather than actual skills, of the child. For outcome evaluation, improvements in IQ scores (Smith, 2001), may not result in improvements in the core features of autism (i.e., social and communication impairments; Anderson, 2001). Behavioral interventions that impact IQ scores may be misleading because of an indirect effect of promoting test-taking strategies and encouraging behavior associated with better test performance (Lord & Schopler, 1989), rather than a true improvement on underlying cognitive functioning. Additionally, other factors such as language, attention, and motivation difficulties can affect the outcome of intellectual assessment (Leekam et al., 1997; Volden & Johnston, 1999; Wainwright & Bryson, 1996). Despite these challenges, what remains unknown is the relationship between social behaviors and intellectual functioning. Although researchers have repeatedly documented the difficulties with social skills demonstrated by individuals with autism, few have assessed whether the severity of difficulties are related to cognitive functioning. This information will help increase understanding of the multiple and complex influences on cognitive development and of the areas of social development associated with intellectual functioning and important for intervention.
The purpose of this presentation is to describe the relationship between cognitive functioning and parent and teacher ratings of social skills for young children with autism.
The Differential Abilities Scale (DAS) was administered to 57 children with autism and the Early Childhood Social Skills Survey (ECSSS; Ruble & Dalrymple, 2005) was completed by the teachers of the students. Based on the General Conceptual Ability (GCA) obtained from the DAS, participants will be divided into three groups for purposes of analyses: (a) High GCA—those whose abilities were above 85, (b) Medium GCA—those whose scores were above 70 and below 85, and (c) Low GCA—those whose scores were below 70. These groupings were chosen because individuals in each of these groups have been determined to exhibit different behavioral characteristics (Nordin & Gillberg, 1998). Additionally, the internal consistency of the ECSSS will be calculated.
Regression analysis will be used to determine the relationship between the GCAs for the different groups with teacher and parent ratings of social skills from the ECSSS. The reliability of the ECSSS will be examined by calculating the internal consistency using Cronbach's alpha, which measures reliability across items in a single test. Validity of the ECSSS will be established by calculating the relationship between items on the ECSSS and items from the Socialization domain on the Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales.
An analysis of the data is still ongoing; however, it is anticipated that the ECSSS will be a reliable and valid measure for assessing teacher ratings of social skills development. It is also anticipated that a moderate relationship will exist between intelligence and ratings of social skills for children with autism.