Research News

New tool to i.d. support needed by children with intellectual disabilities


Determining what children with intellectual disabilities need to thrive in school and in their daily lives is the aim of new research at Vanderbilt University.  The research is being funded with a five-year grant from the U.S. Department of Education.

The new research will develop and validate a new version of the Supports Intensity Scale (SIS), an assessment tool which evaluates practical support needs of adults over age 16, for children ages 5-16 years.

“It’s a new way of looking at intellectual disabilities, which in the past was seen as a deficit, or in other words, ‘what can’t you do?’” Carolyn Hughes, professor of special education and author of the SIS, said. “[rquote]The whole idea of the SIS is to determine what a person needs in order to participate fully in life like everybody else, so it’s a very positive approach that builds on people’s strengths and interests.[/rquote]”

The $399,685 grant will enable the field test of the SIS instrument among a wide range of children from different regions, races and socioeconomic backgrounds. The authors hope the SIS will prove instrumental in identifying supports needed to enhance children’s successful engagement and functioning in school and preferred life activities.

Hughes and her colleagues say an assessment instrument such as the SIS to measure children’s support needs is important to the field of special education. Information derived from the assessment can be used to develop individualized educational and support plans aimed at promoting inclusive education and community integration experiences for children with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Carolyn Hughes
Carolyn Hughes

Hughes was recently recognized by the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AAIDD) for co-authoring the SIS for adults. The AAIDD called the SIS a “game changing” contribution to the association, the field and the lives of people with intellectual and other developmental disabilities.

“The SIS has been instrumental in shifting the assessment paradigm from a deficits model – a focus on the person as the problem – to one that helps identify what practical supports people need in order to have the greatest personal independence, productivity, social inclusion and quality of life,” Hughes said.

The adult SIS has been translated into multiple languages and is currently used in 17 countries and 20 states including Tennessee. It is used by professionals who provide services to adults with developmental disabilities, including healthcare providers and educators.