Identifying Learning Profiles in Adolescents with ASD Associated with Distinct Social Communication, Behavioral and Academic Support Needs in High School
Objectives: The purpose of the current study was to identify unique profiles of high school students with ASD that are associated with distinct behavioral and academic support needs using standardized assessments of cognitive, social communication, and academic abilities.
Methods: Participants included a large sample of adolescents with ASD ages 14-21 years (N=547, mean chronological age=16.2 years, SD=1.44 years) and their teachers who were part of a RCT of a comprehensive treatment model for high school students with ASD. Research staff assessed non-verbal IQ using the Leiter International Performance Scale, Third Edition (Leiter-3) and academic abilities using the Passage Comprehension and Academic Knowledge subtests of the Woodcock Johnson Tests of Achievement III (WJIII). Teachers completed the Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales- 2nd edition Teacher Form (VABS-II) as a measure of adaptive behavior and the Social Responsiveness Scale-2nd edition (SRS-2) as a measure of autism symptoms.
Results: Latent profile analysis was used to identify subgroups of participants using the Passage Comprehension and Academic Knowledge standard scores on the WJIII; Receptive, Expressive, and Written v-scale scores from the Communication subdomain of the VABS-2; and SRS-2 T-score controlling for NVIQ at baseline. Four groups were identified using fit criteria statistics. Group 1(N= 143) had average IQ, communication, passage comprehension and academic knowledge, and mild autism symptoms. Group 2(N=118) had average NVIQ and passage comprehension and academic knowledge, below average communication, and moderate autism symptoms. Group 3(N=172) had below average NVIQ and communication, low passage comprehension and academic knowledge, and moderate autism symptoms. Group 4(N=110) had far below average NVIQ, communication, passage comprehension and academic knowledge, and severe autism symptoms.
Conclusions: The current study provides evidence that, while NVIQ was generally associated with academic skills in the subgroups, teacher-reported ASD symptom severity and communication skills within classroom settings differentiated student profiles. Groups 1 and 2 displayed average NVIQ and academic abilities; however, Group 1 exhibited mild ASD symptoms and average communication skills, while Group 2 exhibited more severe ASD symptoms alongside poorer communication skills in school. Students in Group 2 would benefit from more adaptive behavior and communication supports to successfully engage in learning even though their WJIII scores were like those of Group 1. Group 3 performed >1SD lower on WJIII subtests than NVIQ would predict, alongside moderately high ASD symptom severity and poor communication skills, indicating need for more intensive academic, behavioral and communication supports. Finally, Group 4 demonstrated severe difficulties across all measures indicating the need for the most intensive supports across all areas of functioning in school.