Dr. Jan van Dijk on Child-Guided Assessment

Dr. Jan van DijkIn the early 1960s, Dr. Jan van Dijk of the Netherlands was asked to assess children with sensory impairments and multiple disabilities. He found that existing assessment tools were not useful because they assumed that the children had been exposed to typical experiences; and he felt that children with sensory impairments and multiple disabilities, due to the very nature of their impairments, had not had the opportunity to experience the world in a typical manner. Dr. van Dijk has dedicated his 50-year career to helping children who have multiple disabilities in addition to deafblindness. His child-guided strategies are recognized and used throughout the world.  

What is child-guided assessment?

Child-guided assessment is a procedure to bring the best of the child to the surface. Children with multiple disabilities live in a fragmented world, often full of stress and anxiety. The assessor wants to meet the child within this very peculiar world, to discover how learning in its broadest sense takes place. He tries to resonate with the child’s behavior by following the child’s lead. When the child feels that he is controlling the situation, it is likely that he will open up and will follow the assessor’s suggestions for finding undiscovered paths for learning and emotional stability.  

Why do you call it child-guided assessment?

The assessor tries to creep “under the child’s skin”, by following and participating in his emotions and movements. Where ever the child leads him, he will follow. Most of the time the child will guide the assessor to a safe place: the lap of his mother, the safety of his wheelchair or to a special toy. When the child hums the assessor will follow, when the child scratches with his nails on a surface, the assessor will follow. Once a relationship is established, the assessor initiates a next step and hopes that the child will follow and learn a new connection. “Child-guided” is certainly a key concept in this approach, but the alternative goal is that after a rapport is established, the child shows his latent possibilities for learning.

What is the difference between child-guided assessment and standardized assessment?

The procedure described above cannot be captured in a pre-set protocol of materials and rules. This does not mean that the approach is without structure. The opposite is true. The “child-guided” approach has a solid scientific framework and a set of conditions in which the assessment should be performed. There is scientific evidence that the Van Dijk approach can be learned by others after training . The outcome is that the results are valid and reliable.(Nelson et al.2009)

Who should conduct the assessment?

Everybody who has had training in this approach, parents, teachers, and para-professionals, can carry out this child-friendly approach. The most important thing is that they are capable of carefully observing the child’s motives and interests and start from there. When the 8 domains of the approach are well understood, it has been shown that unexpected performances of the child, can be brought forward. View Dr. Jan van Dijk’s webcast on Child-Guided Assessment Strategies

Additional Resources

  • Child-Guided Assessment Webcast
  • National Consortium on Deaf-Blindness
  • Nelson, C., Janssen, M., Oster T. & Jayaraman G. (2010) Reliabiltiy and Fidelity of the van Dijk assessment for Children with Deafblindness.
  • Nelson, C., van Dijk, J., Oster, T., McDonnell, A. Child-guided Strategies: The van Dijk Apprach to Assessment, American Printing House for the Blind, Inc. 2009.