Cognition in Interaction: Challenges in Assessing Persons with Sensory and Multiple disabilities




sensory and multiple disabilities, congenital deafblindness, cognitive assessment, dynamic assessment, competent interactional partnership, agency


This article reports a qualitative study of cognitive assessments of three teenagers with sensory and multiple disabilities, including moderate to profound developmental disability. The aim was to evaluate the possibilities for adapting standardized tests and the implementation of interactional partnership in assessment. Cognitive assessments were made with an individually-adapted psychological assessment tool, the Bayley Scales of Infant and Toddler Development. The assessment situations were video-recorded and analyzed based on sociocultural theories of early interaction, dynamic assessment, and the bodily-tactile modality of cognition. The results showed that the requirements for assessment are complex and highly individualized, extending beyond universal guidelines on test adaptations. The assessments were built on developmental steps within the standardized test, but required a special emphasis on individuality and interaction. We conclude that the study provides novel insights into an under-researched area of cognitive assessment, confirming earlier findings that cognitive skills become observable in unique moments of intensive interaction. The assessor must follow the principles of dynamic assessment, applying competent partner strategies such as providing safety, supporting attention, activity, and alertness, and scaffolding the target skills in the zone of proximal development. Conducted thus, the cognitive assessment process can enable the assessor to recognize, support and authenticate the agency of persons with complex disabilities.