An Approach to Teaching Autistic Children by M. P. Everard

An Approach to Teaching Autistic Children by M. P. Everard

By M. P. Everard

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The problem in using the Wechsler Tests with autistic children and others with severe language problems is that the distinction between the verbal and the so-called performance items is somewhat dubious. In particular, the picture completion, picture arrangement and the coding tests do not ask for a spoken response but the ability to reason logically in words or in some other system of symbols whether in silent thought or out loud is essential for their completion. Rutter (1968) has shown that autistic children do poorly on these sub-tests.

Intelligence tests almost always have a marked bias towards testing skills needing language (that is the use of some system of symbols) because this is an essential part of intellectual development and is absolutely vital for an independent life as an adult. The autistic child's failure on most intelligence tests is a fair comment on the severity of his handicaps which are almost always life-long. It is nevertheless legitimate to look for tests which can show the child's special skills so that he can be helped to make the best use of these to compensate as much as possible for his deficiencies in understanding and using any system of communication.

This test measures the size of the vocabulary of words understood by the child and not his spoken vocabulary or his ability to use language. In normal children language skills and vocabulary size usually develop together so that the Peabody score does give some idea of general language skills. This is not true of autistic children, some of whom may have extensive vocabularies but very limited ability to use the rules of grammar or to use language for thinking and planning. The Peabody Test therefore has only a limited place in assessing autistic children.

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