Exploratory factor analysis of special education staff ratings using the Childhood Autism Rating Scale-Second Edition in a sample of students with autism spectrum disorders
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The Childhood Autism Rating Scale, Second Edition Standard Version (CARS-2 ST; Schopler et al., 2010) is a 15-item behavior rating scale designed to gather information about autism spectrum disorder (ASD) characteristics in individuals ranging in age from two years through adulthood. It can be used as a screening tool or as part of a larger comprehensive diagnostic assessment. The purposes of this study were to examine the factor structure, internal consistency, and screening sensitivity and specificity of CARS-2 ST ratings. Exploratory factor analysis and internal consistency estimates were conducted using a sample of 204 lower-functioning students with ASDs between the ages of three and 21 years. Screening sensitivity and specificity analyses involved the 204 students with ASDs and an additional sample of 102 lower-functioning students with developmental disabilities other than ASDs. Ratings were completed by teacher and agency staff at a special education agency for students with developmental disabilities. Prior CARS/CARS-2 EFA studies found between two and five factors. Prior EFA studies varied considerably in terms of sample sizes, sample constitution, administration procedures, assessment settings, types of raters, and child characteristics. The present study EFA involved principal axis factoring (PAF) of the CARS-2 ST inter-item polychoric correlation matrix. Factor extraction and rotation criteria generally converged on a correlated two-factor solution. However, solutions consisting of one to four factors were independently examined for interpretability by four different ASD researchers. All four researchers agreed that the correlated two-factor solution was most interpretable. Factor I was named Social Communication and Factor II was named Emotional Adaptability and Sensory Issues. This factor solution closely replicated the two-component principal components analysis solution reported in the test manual for the CARS-2 ST (see Schopler et al., 2010). Ordinal alpha internal consistency estimates for scales based on the two factors met or exceeded standards for screening. A classification analysis using cut scores recommended in the manual yielded sensitivity estimated above .80, but specificity estimates were more problematic--especially for those ≥13 years old. Implications for clinical use, instrument revision, and future research are discussed.
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