Previously posted on Technorati as Life Milestones and Autism: Testing Abstract Concepts.
Autism has an impact in many different parts of a family's life. Families will battle with the condition in order to teach basic self-care skills such as hygiene, dressing one's self, cooking (or at least getting cereal), and so on to be sure their children will have those skills that are necessary to take care of themselves. During these long sessions, other children are reaching milestones such as riding a bike, walking to school with friends, participating in important religious and social events, etc.
Of course parents are concerned that their children are missing out on these important childhood milestones, and look for ways to have their children enjoy as much as their peers. But some milestones require a level of understanding that is demonstrable that may not be possible for a child on the Spectrum. This becomes a problem.
Testing understanding has been pretty basic for most children throughout the years. You ask them questions, and see if they respond properly. Whether testing a belief or knowledge, it all comes down to how and what they respond. With children with Autism that may not be an effective method of testing their knowledge. Creative methods of examination need to be developed in order to understand what they know.
The basic question one needs to ask is, how can my child with Autism show his knowledge? Some can respond using a tablet and software, others using picture exchange. This works great for basic nouns and active verbs, but how does a child demonstrate an abstract thought with pictures and symbols in a way that makes sense?
I'm reminded of an episode of Seaquest DSV, where the dolphin, Darwin, was trying to convey his need to join his pod for a cure to his illness. The crew didn't understand what he was saying, because the concept was so abstract that it didn't translate well. Similar to children who are non-verbal, they may not be able to make sense of an abstract thought based on what they hear, or even if they do understand that thought, they may not be able to translate it with their given tools.
So what is a parent to do? It's a judgement call that parents need to make for themselves, with the help of organizational support. If it is a religious belief that is being tested, then they need to decide whether or not that belief can be properly expressed given the tools they have. If it is a relationship between safety and hunting, judgement calls, etc. from other organizational training that is required to reach a certain level of understanding, then the organization should be able to judge based on what is required to know.
Luckily for parents, this road is being blazed before them by countless Special Education teachers and administrators that need to create quality, quantifiable testing methods for children on the spectrum. It all comes down to finding a way for the child to successfully demonstrate their knowledge. It's a challenge that can be exciting, as long as you have a way forward.