Adaptive Behavior

Adaptive behavior refers to the skills that people need to function independently at home, at school, and in the community. Does the disability affect the student’s ability to acquire or demonstrate adaptive behavior skills?

The American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AAIDD) defines adaptive behavior as the collection of conceptual, social and practical skills that individuals need to function in their daily lives (Schalock et al., 2010).  (Kirchner et al. 2016)

Adaptive behavior has been viewed broadly as “the effectiveness and degrees to which the individual meets the standards of personal independence and social responsibilities” [1] (p. 11). The construct includes skills that an individual requires in order to meet personal needs and to be able to cope with the social and natural demands in their environment. Specifically, Ditterline et al. (2008) noted that these skills involve being able to independently care for one’s personal health and safety, dress and bathe, communicate, behave in a socially acceptable manner, effectively engage in academic skills, recreation and work, and to engage in a community lifestyle [2]. (Price, Morris & Costello, 2017)

These adaptive behaviors, gain attention when the learner has not acquired the skill or ability along side their  same aged peers. These behaviors can change over time with maturation, instruction, and other supports.

There are a number of adaptive behavior scales, with the Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales and the Adaptive Behavior Assessment System, being among the more commonly used assessments in schools today.

In addition to the disabilities where adaptive behavior is a required assessment, you will examine each disability through the lens of “adaptive behaviors”, making note of areas where the learner may need support and instruction.

Adaptive Behavior

Below is a listing of some of the adaptive behaviors measured by commonly used scales and checklists based on models of the construct of adaptive behavior.

  • Communication Skills
  • Self-Care
  • Social Skills
  • School/Home Living
  • Community Use
  • Self-Management (includes self-regulation)
  • Personal Health and Safety
  • Functional Academics
  • Leisure

Each week you will address Adaptive Behaviors that are cited in the readings and other course materials as areas of concern for the student with X disability. These information may overlap with other categories of summary. They will rarely be labeled as “adaptive behaviors. Instead, look for characteristics that fall into these sub categories. Below I am going to provide a brief summary of what to look for regarding these adaptive behaviors. Know that each week, this list will stay the same, but the related information will change, because of the nature of the disability.

  • You will compare the student with an x disability with other “typical” students of the same chronological age.

Communication Skills- does the disability affect the learner in the area of communication? (Mode of communication, verbal skills, written communication, listening comprehension or language skills.

Self-Care– does the disability affect the learner’s ability to maintain adequate self-care and personal hygiene during the school day?

Social Skills- does the learner have below average abilities in the areas of interacting with peers, with adults, and/or understanding expected social interactions (verbal and non verbal cues, manners etc.)?

School /Home, Living – does the learner require supervision in these settings to complete daily tasks or chores?

Community Use– can the learner move about in school or in the community  and follow rules and exhibit appropriate behaviors?

Self-Management (self-regulation) – can the learner plan and organize tasks and activities, work independently, and self-correct behavior as needed?

Health and Safety- does the learner demonstrate the ability to avoid dangerous situations, know how to advocate for his/her own personal health and safety including what to do if ill or injured?

Functional Academics– Is the learner on average with peers (no more than 2 years below) in the areas of reading, writing and math skills?

Leisure- is the learner able to use free time appropriately, playing games with peers, following rules, taking turns and interacting appropriately.

These adaptive behaviors and skills are  important in the life of the learner throughout their lifespan.

>>Study Tip, Download as a Word Document: this Adaptive Behavior Checklist to use as note taking guide.

Follow this link to see examples of Adaptive Behavior through the lens of  the learner with a Specific Learning Disability. Scroll down to section 7 of the SLD disability summary. This is not an exhaustive list. Please identify at least one relevant example for each category.

A cautionary note about adaptive behavior scales and diverse cultures.

Much of the research on adaptive behavior and the development of adaptive behavior scales has been shaped by studies conducted in the United States. The current research represents the one cultural lens, that of western culture and may not be representative of global populations. Keep this in mind when you are assessing learners from diverse cultures.


Autism Research and Treatment Volume 2013, Article ID 415989, 10 pages, CC BY 3.0

Kirchner RM, Martens MA and Andridge RR (2016) Adaptive Behavior and Development of Infants and Toddlers with Williams Syndrome. Front. Psychol. 7:598. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00598  CC BY 4.0

Systematic: Adaptive Behavior Characteristics Checklist (this link will open as Word Document)



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