Profiles and Predictors of School Functioning Among Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders
Objectives: This study examined (1) patterns of academic and social school functioning among 10-11 year-old children with ASD; and (2) early behavioral and social communication indicators, measured around age 3, as predictors of children's school functioning profile membership.
Methods: The sample included 178 children from the Canadian Pathways in ASD study. Latent profile analysis (Vermunt & Magidson, 2013) was used to identify and describe profiles of children's school functioning (academic and social outcomes) when children were around 10-11 years old. Academic functioning outcomes included the composite standard score of the Wechsler Individual Achievement Test II (WIAT--II-A; Wechsler, 2001) and teacher reports of academic performance and school engagement (Teacher Report Form, Achenbach, 1991). Social functioning included parents’ and teachers’ report on adaptive socialization skills (VABS-II; Sparrow et al., 2005) and both pragmatic competence and children’s social relations (CCC-2; Bishop, 1998). Early behavioral and social communication indicators at age 3 were examined as predictors of profile membership approximately 6 years later. Early predictors included autism severity (ADOS; Lord et al. 2000), behavior problems (Aberrant Behavior Checklist; Aman et al., 1985), imitation ability (Multidimensional Imitation Assessment; Lowe-Pearce & Smith, 2005), and initiating and responding to joint attention (Early Social Communication Scales; Mundy et al., 2007).
Results: A four-profile model of children's school functioning showed the best fit and was also the most parsimonious (Figure 1). Profile 1 (30%) was characterized by the highest scores on school functioning across both academic and social outcomes. Profile 2 (24%) had low outcomes on academic achievement and performance, with school engagement and social outcomes that were in the average range for the Pathways sample in this analysis. Profile 3 (21%) displayed above average academic achievement and performance, with social outcomes (i.e., pragmatic skills and social relations) that were relatively low. Finally, Profile 4 (24%) had the lowest level of school functioning across both academic and social outcomes. Three early behavioral and social communication indicators measured around age 3 significantly predicted profile membership; these included behavior problems (Wald = 15.07, p < .01), imitation (Wald=34.02, p < .001); and responding to joint attention (Wald = 25.13, p <.001).
Conclusions: School functioning is complex and variable in elementary-aged children with ASD. Professionals providing early intervention should focus on enhancing early social communication skills that may help to enhance future school functioning.