The assessment of the special educational needs for children with autism in Singapore
In Singapore, there is a high reliance on IQ scores as the basis for deciding children's access to special educational provisions. Children with disabilities remain in the mainstream if they are perceived to be able to cope with the demands of the mainstream schools. On the other hand, if children were seen to require intensive support, referral to special schools would be initiated. This thesis aims to evaluate the validity of measures of intelligence and other selected indicators of special educational needs (SEN) for children with autism in Singapore. The first phase of the thesis involved identifying an independent measure of SEN. Results of Study 1, which involved interviews with the parents of 40 children with autism, provided support for the International Classification of Functioning Disability and Health (ICF: WHO, 2001) as an adequate independent measure of SEN. The second phase involved the evaluation of selected indicators of SEN that can be used alongside the ICF, namely measures of intelligence, theory of mind, executive function, central coherence and cognitive modifiability. These were evaluated based on their psychometric and treatment validity, as defined in educational contexts. For evaluations of psychometric validity, two criteria were used: firstly, the extent to which the indicators were able to predict children's SEN level and secondly, the extent to which the indicators were able to distinguish children with autism who can cope with mainstream schools, from those that require special schools. This involved individual assessments with 52 children with autism and interviews with their parents (Study 2). For evaluations of treatment validity a qualitative approach was adopted to obtain practitioners' views on the extent to which the indicators of SEN were able to provide information that can be used to plan interventions (Study 3). The findings indicated that it was the combination of indicators that accounted for the greatest variance in the SEN levels of children with autism. However, depending on the purpose of testing and types of sub-group of children with autism, different indicators proved to have different validity strength. When the treatment validity of these measures was evaluated, measures of theory of mind showed the strongest treatment validity. The findings are discussed in terms of their implications for SEN assessments in Singapore, and the assessment of children with autism in general.