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Edgar A. Doll

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Edgar Doll was arguably the first person to stress the importance of adaptive behavior (social competence or social maturity) in individuals with intellectual disabilities. Although Edgar Doll was a considered a pioneer of American Psychology, his greatest contribution to the field of intellectual and developmental disabilities was his creation of the Vineland Social Maturity Scale (VSMS).

Not long after graduating from Cornell, Doll began a five year period at the Vineland Training School. This was during the time that Henry Goddard, who was head of Vineland’s psychological research laboratory, published The Kallikak Family. During Goddard’s tenure at Vineland (1905-1918) Goddard translated and standardized the Binet and also studied immigrants on Ellis Island. He found that 80% of those he studied were “feebleminded.”

In 1917 Doll left Vineland to attend graduate school at Princeton University. However, that very same year the US joined its allies in World War I and Doll volunteered for the Army. While there, Doll examined the intelligence of successful new army recruits for the Army and found thousands of soldiers with IQs of “morons.” In 1918 Doll was asked to evaluate the IQ levels of prisoners who were ready for parole. He found inmates were not far below army recruits and refuted the common opinion of the time that mental retardation was a cause of criminality. A few years later, Edgar Doll received his Ph.D. from Princeton University in 1920. His dissertation, entitled The Growth of Intelligence, was a longitudinal study of intelligence in “feeble-minded” and superior (or gifted) individuals. In 1925 Doll returned to Vineland where he stayed for the next 25 years.

Doll developed the Vineland Social Maturity Scale (VSMS). He was a firm believer that one needed to assess how individuals’ cognitive impairment affected their “life skills” and that the diagnosis of mental retardation could only be made if those skills were also impaired. The VSMS was used extensively around the world from its publication in the 1935 through the early 1980s. Although the American Association for Mental Deficiency proposed that a deficit in adaptive behavior should be necessary for a diagnosis of mental retardation as early as 1959. It was in 1975 that the importance of adaptive behavior increased dramatically because of PL 94-142. This federal law mandated adaptive behavior assessment for the diagnosis of mental retardation. PL 94-142 created a strong interest in developing modern psychometrically sound adaptive behavior tests to meet the requirements of the law. Thus, in 1984 the revision of the VSMS, The Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales (Vineland ABS) was published.

The Vineland ABS was the first measure of adaptive behavior that met modern day psychometric requirements. This revision was based on principles advocated by Edgar Doll and maintained some of the original items that were still relevant to the 1980s. The revision included many new items, was modified in format and was standardized on a representative population in the United States.

Since the publication of the Vineland ABS in 1984, over 2000 papers have been published in which the instrument has been applied to assess a very wide range of diagnostic groups. Of particular note is the increased relevance of adaptive behavior measurement for people with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). Since the early 80’s there has been a wealth of studies of adaptive behavior with individuals on the spectrum; the vast majority of these studies have used the Vineland ABS or Vineland II.

When Doll first published the Vineland Social Maturity Scales in 1935, autism was not a recognized disorder. Kanner first described the autism syndrome in 1943 and Asperger published his thesis on the syndrome that now bears his name, in 1944. However, Doll presented a case in his 1953 book describing a boy who has “autism or schizophrenia.” At that time many believed that autism was a form of childhood schizophrenia. However, it is clear that Doll’s VSMS legacy has strongly influenced work in autism over the last 25 years.


-Taken from http://www.apa.org/divisions/div33/docs%5C35-2.pdf

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