Message from the Director: Jingle Bells and ASD Screeners

by Dr. Megan Foley-Nicpon, Belin-Blank Center Director

As I am writing this note, there is one more week in the semester and only about three more weeks left in 2022. Then in January, I’ll be starting my 20th year at the University of Iowa. It really does not seem possible! Throughout my tenure, one of my biggest joys has been contributing to the research on twice-exceptionality. In my new role as Belin-Blank Center director, I am fortunate to be able to continue this journey and am proud of a recent publication in Gifted and Talented International that is an example of this work.  

Along with a team of UI counseling psychology students, we developed the High Functioning ASD Screener (HFAS). The impetus for this study was noticing in our Assessment and Counseling Clinic and through our research on twice-exceptionality that high ability youth with autism spectrum disorder  (ASD) sometimes have unique presentations, resulting in diagnosis occurring later in development. This is problematic since researchers and clinicians emphasize the importance of early intervention for persons with ASD. At the same time, evaluations are very time consuming and pricey, and not all families have insurance that covers the costs. In this study, we discuss how we developed the HFAS and provide preliminary evidence of its effectiveness:  

Qualitative and quantitative development of the High Functioning ASD Screener (HFAS)  

Megan Foley-Nicpon, Margaret Candler, Erica Behrens, Zachary Sussman, Owen Gaasedelen, and Cara Wienkes 

ABSTRACT  

ASD manifests in children throughout the ability spectrum, though screening tools may not adequately identify high-ability youth who would benefit from a comprehensive identification evaluation; thus, the impetus for developing The High Functioning ASD Screener (HFAS). Information from content area expert interviews determined the 93-item pilot form administered to high ability youth (ages 5 years, 11 months to 18 years, 2 months) with ASD (n = 15), average ability students (n = 10), and high ability students (n = 23). ANOVAs identified items that differentiated the three groups and/or were most endorsed by the high ability/ASD group, resulting in the 36-item HFAS. Preliminary receiver operating characteristic curves indicate the scale is excellent at classification. 

The HFAS is the first measure of its kind to help clinicians screen for ASD among high ability populations specifically.  It is also the first to help researchers learn more about best practices in assessment and intervention for high ability youth with ASD.  While more research is needed to further validate this screener before we can make it available to clinicians, this publication is an important step toward earlier diagnosis and intervention for high ability youth with ASD.   

As we approach the end of 2022, it’s a good time to reflect on the past year and to think about all that we hope to do and experience in the next one.  This year has brought many changes for me, most notably a new position as director.  As I’ve settled into the role, we’ve begun a strategic planning process that will continue well into the new year, leading to exciting new directions for the Center.  I hope you all have a safe and healthy holiday season, and Cheers to 2023!  

Megan  

One response to “Message from the Director: Jingle Bells and ASD Screeners

  1. This is fantastic news! I was literally just thinking this morning that I need to find out if there is a screener for ADHD and/or ASD for high ability individuals. I am so happy to see the work being done on this for ASD. Next, I hope hope to see the same for ADHD.

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