Close this search box.

Adaptive Assessment & Autism: Hope for Neurodivergent Individuals

Adaptive Assessment: Hope for Autistic Individuals
Adaptive Assessment: Hope for Autistic Individuals
Summary. How can you assess someone who processes thoughts differently, learns differently, and communicates differently? In this article we look at few ideas of how adaptive assessment can change the way we assess neurodivergent individuals' learning. As these individuals have unique cognitive processes that we know very little about, an automated personalisation tool is what is required to delve into this world, discover talents, communicate areas of needs, highlight strengths, boost confidence, empower individuals, and raise awareness. These capabilities are currently lacking in traditional assessment, which is designed for the 'average' neurotypical student with a one-size-fits-all approach.

The content of all our articles is protected by the Terms & Conditions policy. For license of content, please reach out to us directly, our information are on the contact us page.

In the realm of education and development, adaptive assessment has been a topic of interest since the 60s, with practical executions starting in the 90s, and booming ever since as technology and automation take new strides. For neurodivergent* individuals with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder), the notion of adaptive assessment can be transformative, not only to the individual to progress their learning, but also to educators and researchers to understand more about the process of learning of the neurodivergent.


What is Adaptive Assessment?

Adaptive assessments are tests that adjust their difficulty and content based on your answers, essentially tailoring themselves to your individual knowledge level. They ask harder questions if you answer correctly and easier ones if you struggle, aiming to get a more accurate picture of your abilities. Think of it as a test that constantly adapts to you, rather than the other way around, which is the case with traditional assessment.


Why is Adaptive Assessment Good for Neurodiversity?

Traditional assessment methods often fail to capture the true capabilities of autistic people, overshadowed by the challenges posed by standardized testing environments and rigid evaluation criteria. These tests are usually designed for the ‘average’ neurotypical student. They do not cater for any sensory processing differences that highly impact neurodivergent students. Traditional assessments can be labelled as ‘unfair’ in this case, not only because they might miss the needs of ASD individuals who can have learning difficulties, but also because they are not usually designed to offer any feedback or observations on the interactions of the students with the test. This means we learn nothing about the student’s behaviour or their cognitive process and therefore fail to improve the process for them.


Another argument to mention is the fact that every individual on the spectrum tend to be unique in the way they learn and process information, and we still do not know much about these processes or autism in general to offer a one-size-fits-all assessment. Adaptive assessment however, with its flexible and personalized nature, holds the promise of a more inclusive and accurate evaluation framework.


Tailoring to Individual Needs

At its core, adaptive assessment is designed to adjust in real-time to the test taker’s ability level. For autistic individuals, who may have a diverse range of strengths, challenges, and learning styles, this approach offers a unique opportunity. By accommodating their specific needs and preferences, adaptive assessments can provide a more accurate reflection of their abilities and potential. This is particularly crucial in educational settings, where understanding each student’s unique learning profile is key to supporting their development.


Communicating through Automated Observation

For autistic individuals who struggle with communication, observation is extremely important to discovering their needs. As they might not be able to articulate their preferences, a good chunk of information about them can be mis-interpreted or lost. Observation is one of the most critical interventions for people on the spectrum particularly for children in early years of educations. Usually conducted by therapists, parents, or teaching assistants, the accuracy of picking up clues can be questionable as parents and TAs who spend most of the time with a child are not trained therapists, and therapists spend very little time with the child. Automated adaptive assessment that can calculate factors like the time spent on each question or the pattern of answering the questions can uncover valuable information about neurodivergent individuals, that can then be used in understanding behaviour and designing interventions.


Reducing Anxiety and Stress

Standardized tests, with their strict time limits and high-stakes nature, can be a significant source of anxiety for many, especially for those on the autism spectrum. Adaptive assessments, by contrast, often incorporate a more flexible approach to testing. This can include adjustments in timing, a reduction in the sensory load of the testing environment, and the use of familiar formats or content. This type of accommodations can help reduce anxiety and stress, enabling autistic individuals to perform to the best of their abilities as opposed to being hindered by the environment. Furthermore, adaptive learning can be implemented with artificial intelligence (AI) which has the capabilities of calculating inferences based on large and varried datasets that can include environment factors. These data can be taken from the environment while the student is interacting with the test.


Highlighting Strengths and Interests

We believe that every human has a talent, and every human has strengths and interests. One of the most promising aspects of adaptive assessment is its ability to identify and highlight an individual’s strengths and interests. Traditional assessments tend to focus on deficits, but adaptive methods can uncover hidden talents and capabilities, often overlooked in conventional educational settings. For autistic individuals, this positive recognition can be empowering, opening-up pathways to specialized educational programs, career opportunities, and personal development projects that align with their strengths. This can also influence society and raise awareness, as families and communities would show more appreciation for these individuals, their talents, and potential contributions to society.


Guiding Personalised Learning Plans

The insights gained from adaptive assessments can be invaluable in designing personalized learning plans. By understanding the specific areas where an autistic individual excels or requires more support, educators and therapists can tailor interventions and educational strategies to promote growth and learning effectively. This targeted approach not only enhances educational outcomes but also supports the overall well-being and self-esteem of autistic individuals. This empowers neurodivergent students deeply as they are no longer squeezed in a one-size-fits-all model, showing more respect to their individuality and uniqueness.


Predicting Behaviour and Reducing Bias

If implemented with ethical AI, adaptive assessment can help predict the performance and speed of progress for neurodivergent individuals as AI is capable of analysing and discovering patterns in large data sets that can be collected when students are interacting with the tests, even if the test is a simple toddler’s game. These prediction can help design therapy and learning paths. For this to work though, the training datasets for any models that AI is integrating need to be free of stereotypes and bias against neurodivergent individuals. This is required for the assumptions used to infer information such as the students’ behaviour or progress to be valid, accurate and correct.


A Step Towards Inclusion

Ultimately, the adoption of adaptive assessment methods signifies a move towards a more inclusive educational system. By acknowledging and accommodating the diversity of learners, including those on the autism spectrum, we pave the way for a more equitable and supportive learning environment. This approach not only benefits neurodivergent individuals by recognising their unique contributions but also enriches the educational experience for all students.

In conclusion, adaptive assessment offers a beacon of hope for neurodivergent individuals and people on the autistic spectrum, illuminating a path to a more understanding, accommodating, and inclusive world. By embracing these methods, we can ensure that every individual has the opportunity to showcase their true and unique potential, discover hidden talents and thrive in their educational journey.

*Please note that in this article we focus more on autism, however, neurodiversity is a term that includes many other conditions outside of the autism spectrum. If you want more articles on adaptive assessment & autism, or eLearning for neurodivergent individual, email us to request the topics,

Disclaimer: The content of all our articles is protected by the Terms & Conditions policy. For license of content, please reach out to us directly, our information are on the contact us page.

Table of Contents