Functional and Adaptive Programming


I was asked by a supervisor once if I would be willing to collaborate with another school psychologist, a school administrator, and the supervisor to help modernize and improve one of our elementary-level "functional" education classrooms. This process included conducting classroom observations, researching high-quality curriculum, talking to stakeholders, conducting a physical redesign of the classroom, and providing guidance to the teacher and classroom paraprofessionals who worked in the classroom. My primary role within this committee to was to conduct classroom observations to determine what academic needs were present, then to research curriculum and assessments which would help to shape the academic nature of this program. The following is a summary of my findings related to functional and academic curriculum and assessment practices.

Before we go much further, I think it would be useful to define a few terms: "adaptive", "functional", and "low-incidence". I use the term "functional" to refer to content and curriculum which is designed for life skills instruction. Students who are in functional academic programs are sometimes referred to as "low incidence", meaning that there is only a small percentage of students who share similar disabilities. These students are typically not capable of being successful in traditional general education settings, and would likely not be successful in resource classrooms designed for students with higher-incidence disabilities. These students have individualized education plans which tend to focus on life skills, rather than academic skills. Because the focus of these classrooms are not purely academic, a specialized curriculum and set of resources are often used in these settings.

Some schools also offer "adaptive" classrooms. Adaptive classrooms are one step closer to traditional resource rooms. Students with adaptive needs likely have physical impairments which would require physically adapted equipment (think: wheelchair, harness, etc.) to allow them to participate in learning experiences. Adaptive classrooms tend to focus less on life skills (such as toileting, housekeeping, hygiene, etc.) and instead have a higher level of academic instruction paired with career skills development and transition planning for life after graduation.

There is no magic dividing line that separates functional from adaptive programs. Some schools don't offer either of these settings. Other schools may offer only one classroom which contains both functional and adaptive students and curriculum. It is left up to the student's IEP team to determine the appropriate placement for the student. Students with low incidence disabilities may spend some time with functional content and some time with adaptive content. Regardless of the model of classroom used, each student should have specially designed programs and services which are developed to meet his or her needs in the least restrictive environment possible to maintain their success.

I certainly do not intend to represent that this is an exhaustive review of resources on the topic. Information below may no longer be current, especially regarding pricing. You may know of other content, curriculum, and assessments which would be appropriate for this page. If you care to share your suggestions for other content, feel free to contact me and let me know.

Curriculum-Only Options

  • Texas F.A.C.E.S Curriculum

    • Functional Academic Curriculum for Exceptional Students, Revised

    • See the introduction here.

    • Freely available; you just have to print the materials

      • Content Covered: Language Arts, Science, Social Studies, Math, Vocational, and Personal Health

  • Links Curriculum

      • Offers a structured teaching model, primarily designed for students with autism

      • Primary purpose appears support the development of functional life skills

      • Common Core aligned

      • The online progress monitoring tool appears very useful

      • Content is available for upper elementary through post-secondary

      • Comes with an assessment piece, computerized progress monitoring, and full curriculum

      • A free two-week trial is available to test drive the program

      • 10 student licenses cost $895 for a year

Curriculum and Assessment Options

  • STAR Curriculum

      • Strategies for Teaching Based on Autism Research

      • Three levels of program material

      • All levels focus mostly on language/communication, with academics, functional and social skills

      • Designed primary for students on the autism spectrum

    • Includes a curriculum-based assessment system

    • $314 for Level 1 kit, $345 for Level 2 or Level 3

    • Comes with four separate curriculum planing books (each related to specific domains)

    • Book 1: Life skills and hygiene, Book 2: Communication, Book 3: Academics, Book 4: Leisure and Career

    • You can purchase all four books for $180, or you can order each book individually for $56 each

    • Contains a simple assessment and progress monitoring piece for each book

    • Each book contains activities which can develop skills both at home and at school

  • FISH Guidebook

      • Functional Independence Skills Handbook

      • Comes with criterion assessment system and lesson plans

      • Teacher's manual is $80; 10 individual student protocols are $33

Assessment-Only Options

Other Resources and Principles to Consider