California Deafblind Services
Gloria: Jan van Dijk's Child-Centered Assessment02/06/2012 15:02
Jan van Dijk presented at the 16th Annual Lowenfeld-Akeson Early Years Symposium on his assessment approach with children with multiple disabilities. He has been working on this approach for years, and has been collaborating with Dr. Cathy Nelson from Utah State University to systematize it so that it can be used by other practitioners. van Dijk summarized this assessment approach by stating: "We go where the child is.” And this is exactly what we observed him doing while assessing a child during the symposium and in video examples.
Prior to discussing his approach, he summarized for us the problems with traditional assessment for children who are deaf-blind and who have multiple disabilities. These are:
- The child may have difficulty with the set conditions established by the assessment.
- The instruments may not adequately taken into account sensory impairments.
- Normal range of these instruments may be insufficient because the development of these children is unique.
In contrast, van Dijk’s assessment approach assesses what the child can do and involves the caregivers if they are present during the evaluation. Caregivers can provide critical information and can help the assessor create a more appropriate assessment situation. For instance, they, and if present, the service providers, may share what the child’s preferred activities, object, and/or toys are. The idea is that together they find a useful direction to pursue with the child.
Some of van Dijk's assessment strategies are:
1. A gradual approach to the child:
- Start observing the child the moment they are in the same room.
- Observe the child at a distance while interviewing the caregivers, and service providers.
- Later, interact with the child.
2. Close observation of the child:
- Observe gestures, sounds, body movements, demeanor.
- Observe bio-behavioral state of the child: how is the child is responding to stressful situations? What is the role of the parents and teachers? Can the child modulate the stress and uncertainty?
- Observe the relationship of the child with the adults around, and the relationship of these adults with the child, such as physical contact, eye contact, things they do together.
- Learn about the child's preferred learning channels. What are the senses the child uses to access information and to interact with others? van Dijk made the point that although the child may have vision and hearing problems these senses may still be strong learning channels.
3. Follow the child’s lead while interacting with the child:
- Imitate child’s simple actions and sounds.
- Acknowledge the child’s emotions as they happen during the assessment.
- Stop an interaction when the child shows withdrawal. Engage with the child when the child is again interested in the interaction.
- Establish joint attention in the actions of the child, no matter how small.
4. Quality of the interaction:
- The interaction conveys joy and the voice conveys happiness.
- Talk to the child by singing with rhythm. The "talking/singing" may be a repetition of the child’s vocalizations, or a description of what the child is doing. Singing and rhythm may also lower anxiety.
- Try to have eye contact with the child if the child has some vision. If the child is totally blind, try to have physical contact.
5. Change the routine and interaction a bit to observe the child’s response:
- Propose new movements like “hands up” and “hands down” and see if the child imitates the assessor. The movements should be rhythmical and repetitive.
- Make small changes to the routine and observe how the child problem-solves the new situation.
If you want to learn more about this approach, you can observe for free the following webcast from Perkins School for the Blind:
And purchase the new book from APH: Child-guided Strategies: The van Dijk Approach to Assessment.