Functional profiles of children with disabilities: A cluster analysis

Date of Completion

January 2004


Health Sciences, Rehabilitation and Therapy|Education, Special




Children in elementary school participate not only in academic tasks but also in many functional tasks and activities. With the greater inclusion of children with disabilities in typical school settings fostered by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, parents, teachers, and other professionals must work together to identify and provide specific services and supports to facilitate each child's participation in school. This series of papers explores the use of data from the School Function Assessment (SFA) to understand differences and similarities in children's profiles of performance on a variety of functional activities common to elementary school settings. Cluster analysis of the SFA Part III Activity Performance criterion scores from a sample of 332 children with disabilities produced six distinctive groups of children. The clusters varied in their patterns of performance on a series of physical and cognitive/behavioral tasks, with the two smallest clusters exhibiting the lowest level of task performance. The two largest clusters performed at the highest level, with performance in many tasks approaching that of their typical peers, but with different patterns of functional limitations. When the six clusters were examined for association with demographic and impairment-related variables, there were no differences by age or racial/ethnic characteristics. There was a small association between cluster membership and sex, and only moderate associations between cluster membership and class setting, type and level of impairment, and diagnostic information. The clusters also varied significantly in their levels of use of adaptations and assistance, as measured by the Part II Task Supports scores of the SFA. The results of this study suggest that grouping children by functional performance profiles rather than by categories of impairment maybe more useful for studying long-term outcomes and identifying best practices for increasing the function and participation of children with disabilities in school. ^