The article by Ingram et al. (2007) describes an empirical study of 30 elementary school children using a method called “The Playground Observation Checklist.” It starts out by pointing out that severe social impairment is the most prominent feature of autism, as defined using the DSM criteria. …
The usual way of measuring behavior such as limited eye contact, lack of reciprocal social interaction, fewer greetings and failure to initiate interactions such as offering comfort to someone who is hurt, for example, is to observe how children react in certain contrived situations. This study hypothesizes that children with autism will behave differently from children with mental retardation and children with typical development during natural situations. It proposes that that a standardized way of observing children in the everyday context of school recess would be a helpful assessment tool. The playground observation checklist is just such an observation tool, and the article describes how it was used and the results it produced. These results were then checked for accuracy against other information obtained by the usual autism assessment methods.
There were ten items on the behavior checklist, which is a very small amount, and for each child in the sample of 81 a score of yes/no was recorded against each item during a 15 minute observation period. Two observers recorded the sessions simultaneously, and any instance where a child interacted with an adult during the 15 minutes was discounted, and the observation was repeated until a session with only peer to peer interaction took place....
n educator this is an interesting article which recommends an intervention that is relatively inexpensive, easy to administer and suitable for operation in a school context in a way that does not place any undue pressure on the child. This article was an exploration of the method itself, and more needs to be done on that to ensure that the criteria are worded well, for example avoiding gender bias in the way interactions are described and scored. Assuming these details could be ironed out, this observation checklist does appear to be a good method for making initial assessments to indicate what kind of specialist referral, if any, would be appropriate for a particular child. So long as the observation is conducted by trained observers it could be introduced in an elementary school. There are ethical issues about the method, of course, since parents would need to give permission for such observations to take place, whether for research purposes, or for the benefit of the children themselves. There could be a danger of over-diagnosis, or of inappropriate referrals if too much weight is placed on a single fifteen minute observation, and so any use of this tool would be best placed within a school policy on autism, to be called upon under specific circumstances and regulated by school protocols that protect everyone’s rights. The article by Bradley-Johnson et al. (2008) takes a wider perspective than the article by Ingram et al. (2007) and is aimed at school psychologists, rather than educators. The definition of autism used by Bradley-Johnson et al. (2008) is that of the Disabilities Education Improvement Act (2004) which is broader than the DSM criteria. From the start there is an emphasis on “verifying eligibility for special services for autism” which betrays an ...
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