Development of a standardized measure of social-communication abilities (DASCA)

An ongoing challenge for research in neurodevelopmental disorders (NDD) such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is how best to manage the exceptional heterogeneity in skills that comprise social communication. Numerous tools have been developed to assess social-communication impairments, but because they were designed primarily for screening or diagnostic purposes, they do not provide fine-grained distinctions in skill level or severity. Existing measures were developed to capture diagnostically relevant impairments associated with ASD, which are defined in part by their pervasiveness across contexts and development, so they should not be expected to capture subtle changes in abilities within individual children over time. Nevertheless, without a way to validly and reliably quantify these behaviors, it is impossible to measure changes that occur in response to treatment. 

The objective of this research is to create and validate a measure of social-communication ability that can be used to describe baseline levels of ability and subsequent stability or change in children with ASD and other NDDs. The new measure (DASCA) will be a parent-report, computer-administered questionnaire that is normed within developmental cells (i.e., groupings of individuals by age and IQ ranges), thus pre-emptively managing the substantial measurement challenges caused by the wide variability in behavioral manifestation across ages and abilities. It will stand apart from other assessments of social-communication by measuring abilities rather than impairments. Therefore, the DASCA measure will be sensitive to incremental skill changes that may be obscured by diagnostic tools designed to capture broad, diagnostically significant abnormalities.