Schools Should Utilize a Universal Screening for Social Challenges, New Study Suggests

A new screening tool for use in schools helps effectively identify school-age children with social challenges, according to a new study published in the Journal of Applied School Psychology. The “Social Challenges Screening Questionnaire” (SCSQ), developed and tested by the Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center (SARRC), may also assist in identifying autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Researchers at SARRC, led by Dr. Christopher J. Smith, vice president and research director, screened 549 third and fourth grade general education students from eight schools in Phoenix. They found that when compared to the current standard for screening, SCSQ can adequately identify students with social challenges that may need a formal evaluation.

“Universal screening of elementary school students for social challenges is equally as important as the vision and hearing tests schools administer annually,” said Dr. Smith. “Research tells us that social challenges have a strong association with academic success, and lack of social skills may limit a student’s ability to connect with peers leading to peer victimization and social exclusion.”

SARRC set out to develop the SCSQ to inform professionals about children who should have a formal ASD evaluation. Detecting children with milder forms of autism, such as Asperger’s, who would otherwise go undiagnosed until later in life is a priority for the organization. If ASD or another disorder is identified during an appropriate evaluation, children can begin intervention programs that help build social skills and may improve academic functioning in the classroom.

"We need to do a better job of detecting ‘grey area’ kids who have enough skills to get by early detection methods. Some kids may have challenges that emerge in elementary school and others may experience challenges later,” Smith continued.

Given the success of the research study, SARRC now wants schools to use the 15-question tool to screen students when they conduct their vision and hearing testing. Any child who scores high on the questionnaire will be referred to SARRC for an evaluation. Schools should contact SARRC for help adopting the questionnaire, and visit www.ThinkAspergers.org for more information.

To access the entire Journal of Applied School Psychology article, “A Method for Universal Screening of Elementary School Students: Development of the Social Challenges Screening Questionnaire,” visit http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/15377903.2014.995391