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Assessment, assessment costs, and the public

In my work as an expert witness I am often asked to assess children or adults who are or may be on the autism spectrum, and who may also have a complex individual picture that includes specific learning difficulties, intellectual disabilities, problems with adaptive function, or additional disabilities. That’s time-consuming, but important so that the person’s needs are taken into account in court cases.

One thing I do find annoying is the high cost of assessment instruments. Like academic publishing, which makes millions for a few very large academic publishers out of work that was largely performed by public employees at public expense, most assessment instruments have been developed, tested, and validated by public employees at public cost, but then become earning opportunities for private firms. As a lecturer I know universities play a role in this, with their constant demands to monetise one’s work via “knowledge transfer” activities. And poor university salaries can also play a role, as a popular assessment instrument can become a perennial earner for those who created it.

It’s fair enough for those who created an instrument to benefit, but I suspect the taxpayer doesn’t get such a great deal in these arrangements. Reports in my own field often include information about why screening or assessment is so often ignored, and the cost to the already stretched budgets of public bodies is one of the most frequently cited reasons. A surprising amount of this cost is from the price of assessment tools themselves.

Perhaps this is an area where where a form of open publishing could be introduced, or where new media technologies could be used to ensure creators and their universities are reimbursed at a reasonable rate, without adding a high fee paid to outside firms. And in some cases, it would be fantastic if creators would make instruments publicly available at no cost–but could perhaps earn income from added-value activities like certified training.

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