Adaptive Behavior and Its Measurement. Robert Schalock (Ed.). Washington, DC: American Association on Mental Retardation, 1999.
This book is narrow in focus yet broad in scope. It deals with the concept of adaptive behavior and its measurement. Yet, the authors address much more. The book tackles the way we conceive of intelligence and of mental retardation. The authors question basic assumptions of how we understand personality. Most important, they challenge the way we think of people with mental retardation, and, ultimately, how we treat them. Authors of various chapters review the construct in historical perspective; evaluate empirical findings; present a conceptual model relating adaptive behavior to intelligence and mental retardation; present practical, hands on technology; or serve as a position paper. The book is organized into three sections: “The Concept of Adaptive Behavior,” “Its Measurement,” and “Projections for the Future.” The issues covered include the extent to which (a) intelligence should be regarded as a unitary versus a multidimensional variable; (b) intelligence should be regarded as a trait, intrinsic to the individual versus a more fluid entity largely determined by situational factors; (c) intelligence should be regarded as limited solely to abstract reasoning and problem solving versus the ability to cope with practical and social situations; (d) measurement of adaptive behavior, as opposed to intelligence, should assess behavior rather than capacity; (e) intelligence and adaptive behavior measurement instruments should be modified to avoid test bias with different cultural and ethnic groups; (f) measured differences among culturally and ethnically diverse populations should be interpreted as due to test bias versus real differences among diverse groups; (g) diverse cultural and ethnic groups are sufficiently homogeneous in their behavior, so as to allow for modifications in adaptive behavior measurement as a function of membership in such groups; and (h) maladaptive behavior should be included in the measurement of adaptive behavior. Another issue covered is the impact of the adaptive behavior construct upon remedial interventions.
Schalock's volume is a compendium of contemporary thinking and empirical findings about adaptive behavior. It is both weighty and formidable. The editor is to be applauded for presenting a conceptual framework that is cohesive and persuasive, without violating the integrity of the individual chapters. Yet this very approach invites criticism. Many chapters share the same general model, with overlapping authorship. Although that is a strength, it also makes for a great deal of redundancy. The book appears to be “inbred.” Four out of 11 chapters deal with cultural differences and the problem of dealing with them in assessment to avoid test bias. Lacking is a balanced viewpoint, one that can be arrived at only by contrasting a dissenting opinion, a rejoinder, a contradictory argument. There is still support for a unidimensional approach to intelligence, a factor that remains robust despite the evidence of specific abilities. Indeed, Heal and Tassé's pilot study (chapter 10) appears to support a pervasive, all inclusive adaptive behavior skill dimension.
The volume serves almost as a sequel to the AAMR's revised criteria and definition for mental retardation (Luckasson et al., 1992), taking the baton and running with it. Given the revised criteria, the authors ask, What are the implications and how do we apply these ideas? The answers offered are well thought out but may be unacceptable to many professionals steeped in traditional concepts of personality, pathology, and assessment. The book is generally consistent in supporting a hierarchical, multidimensional adaptive behavior construct (paralleling that which has evolved with the construct of intelligence); the merger of intelligence and adaptive behavior constructs as personal competence; a contextual approach to criteria for mental retardation, incorporating the type and intensity of environmental supports required to enhance functioning; the abandonment of a trait approach to intelligence; emphasis on practical and social, as well as conceptual, intelligence; and the need for the use of ethnic and cultural norms in the assessment process. At times the authors appear to build a straw man and then tear it down. Some seem oblivious to the influence of Kurt Lewin and other social psychologists upon psychology, who stressed the need to incorporate social factors as determinants of behavior. Some of the authors repeatedly attack a narrow trait theory that never existed, even in the concepts of Gordon Allport, seemingly assuming that IQ was used as the sole criterion of mental retardation until it was incorporated in the AAMD definition in 1959, although, in fact, Doll had advocated for its use much earlier.
Nihira provides an historical perspective, dividing the time span into four eras, ending, curiously, with the 1980s, when clearly the jumping off point for this volume is the 1992 definition of mental retardation. He identifies the origin of adaptive behavior measurement to the work at the Parson State Hospital in the 1960s. Although the Vineland Social Maturity Scale is referred to, Nihira fails to give Doll credit for advocating the use of social adjustment in the diagnosis of mental retardation and for creating a developmental scale, with a social age and social quotient, analogous to the Binet mental age and IQ. Current adaptive behavior measures do not provide a developmental perspective.
Thompson, McGrew, and Bruininks present an excellent discussion of four reviews of the factor-analytic studies of adaptive behavior scales. They present a structural model, acknowledging the lack of empirical support, concluding that adaptive behavior is multidimensional, identifying three broad factors of Personal Independence, Responsibility, and Cognitive/Academic skills, and endorsing a concept of adaptive behavior—Practical Intelligence. Those scales measuring maladaptive behavior yield two factors of Intropunitive and Extrapunitive Behaviors. The authors point out that the underlying assumption of factor analysis is that identified factors bear a causative relationship with observed behaviors but do not address the issue further insofar as what this implies for mental retardation.