The Adolescent Coping Scale (ACS)

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The Adolescent Coping Scale

Introduction

The Adolescent Coping Scale (ACS) was developed in Australia and is available in this country from ASE (www.ase-solutions.co.uk). The ACS seeks to measure coping strategies used by young people between the ages of 12-18. A number of Connexions companies are now beginning to use this instrument with their clients. The Scale has also been identified as one of the tools that might be used in support of the new Connexions Framework. (www.getting-on.co.uk/toolkit/). Given the developing interest in this tool it seems appropriate at this point to review its psychometric qualities and its practical utility. This review will draw on the experiences of Personal Advisers working in the Humber sub-region, who have used the instrument in a variety of situations (www.getting-on.co.uk/toolkit/). However, the focus here will be on their use of the two versions of the Long Form when working with individual clients.

Why Measure Adolescent Coping?

Adolescence is a time of change and transition. The developmental hurdles faced by teenagers may cause stress. The authors of the ACS, Frydenberg and Lewis, suggest that stress can be characterised as “an imbalance between people’s perception of the demands placed upon them and their perception of the resources at their disposal to cope with these demands”. The ACS provides practitioners with an overview of the coping strategies that individuals are employing to deal with problems and concerns that they perceive as stressful. The Scale is essentially a self-help instrument that allows a young person to reflect on their own behaviour and initiate changes to their coping repertoire if they wish.

Psychometric Qualities and Other Features

Format: The test comprises a manual, two types of test form (long and short), a scoring sheet and a profile chart. The Long Form contains 80 items that assess 18 coping strategies. The 80 items comprise 79 that are structured (each of which is responded to using a five-point scale) and one open-ended item. The scoring of the test is done manually and the results are fed-back graphically using the profile chart. The Long Form can be administered (on a one-to-one basis), scored and fed back quite easily within a 40-minute period. The Long Form consists of two versions, the Specific and the General Forms. These contain exactly the same items, but reflect the author’s view that it is necessary to distinguish between coping in general and coping with a specific issue. They are not at present, however, able to provide strong empirical support for this “conceptually defensible position”.

Development of the Scale: The authors of the ACS, Frydenberg and Lewis, sought to achieve a more adolescent orientated view of coping by asking 643 male and female Australian secondary school students to describe the strategies they commonly used. The descriptions thus generated were then reduced to 18 conceptual categories by means of factor analysis.

Reliability: The stability of the ACS was examined by giving the Long Form to 101 secondary school students twice, with a period of 14 days between each presentation. Most items, when correlation coefficients were computed using the Pearson product-moment, were found to be reliable at 0.32 or higher (p<.001). The stability of the 18 scales was found to be moderate rather than high. However, the authors argue that stability of response is not an entirely appropriate way to assess scale reliability because coping is a dynamic phenomenon.

Validity: Factor analysis was used to measure item validity for the Long Form. The results showed that the 18 scales have construct validity by supporting the existence of separate scale dimensions.

User Qualifications: Those who are not psychologists may use the ACS, but such individuals must be appropriately qualified professionals, possessing both practical experience of working with adolescents and a sound understanding of psychometric principles.

Costs: To purchase a complete set of the materials used in the ACS (including the administrator’s manual, 10 Long Forms/10 Short Forms and 10 scoring sheets/10 profile charts) will cost £140.

Practical Utility

The ACS provides a means of helping individuals to evaluate their own coping style. It can be used:

To encourage young people to think in a structured way about how they have dealt with past difficulties and how they can transfer the strategies that have helped

To work through the range of alternatives, in order to improve a person’s competence at dealing with stressful events

To help identify the level of support an individual might need or to stimulate group discussion.

The Long Form has proved “very straight forward and easy to use for both the administrator and participants”. However, it does need to be delivered on a one-to-one basis when working with Connexions clients who require higher levels of support. The ACS would probably not feature as part of an initial assessment, but rather would be used to explore specific issues and concerns in greater depth when a stronger relationship had been established between client and Adviser. Working on a one-to-one basis helps to overcome literacy difficulties, for example, but does threaten the validity of the test. However, Personal Advisers found that when they offered such close support to a young person “participants struck-up conversations”, elaborated on their answers to items and ventured “information about the nature of their concerns”. The validity of the Scale may be seriously threatened if an individual requires a great deal of support to complete it. However, it is still felt that the ACS has great practical utility in such circumstances because it is a self-help instrument that allows a young person to reflect on their own behaviour and initiate changes to their coping repertoire if they wish.

The ACS has also been used to stimulate group discussion following individual administration and scoring. A Personal Adviser working in a training environment found that endorsed trainees and New Start clients responded “in a very positive manner” to the group session. This session stimulated an interesting conversation about productive and non-productive coping strategies and “alternatives to the strategies already in use were also considered”.

The ACS has also been administered individually to a group of Year 10 pupils who had been permanently excluded from lessons. Their profiles showed that effective coping strategies were being deployed outside of school and these included a strong emphasis on sport and physical activity. These findings confirmed the view of their teacher that they would not necessarily need high levels of support once they left school.

Conclusion

The ACS is a valid and reliable instrument, although it would benefit from further research in these areas. If additional support needs to be given to an individual to enable them to complete the Scale then this validity is threatened. However, the ACS still retains a practical utility because it is a self-help instrument that enables an individual to reflect on his or her own behaviour. The utility of this test would be further increased if norms for a UK sample were developed.