ACS

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 useof 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 teenagersmay 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 uponthem and their perception of the resources at their disposal to cope withthese demands”. The ACS provides practitioners with an overviewof the coping strategies that individuals are employing to deal with problemsand concerns that they perceive as stressful. The Scale is essentially a self-help instrumentthat allows a young person to reflect on their own behaviour and initiatechanges to their coping repertoire if they wish.

Psychometric Qualities and Other Features

Format: The test comprises a manual, two types oftest form (long and short), a scoring sheet and a profile chart. The Long Form contains 80 items that assess18 coping strategies. The 80 itemscomprise 79 that are structured (each of which is responded to using a five-pointscale) and one open-ended item. Thescoring of the test is done manually and the results are fed-back graphicallyusing the profile chart. The LongForm can be administered (on a one-to-one basis), scored and fed back quiteeasily within a 40-minute period. TheLong Form consists of two versions, the Specific and the General Forms. These contain exactly the same items, but reflectthe author’s view that it is necessary to distinguish between coping ingeneral and coping with a specific issue.They are not at present, however, able to provide strong empiricalsupport for this “conceptually defensible position”.

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

Reliability: The stability of the ACS was examinedby giving the Long Form to 101 secondary school students twice, with a periodof 14 days between each presentation. Mostitems, 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 tobe moderate rather than high. However,the authors argue that stability of response is not an entirely appropriateway to assess scale reliability because coping is a dynamic phenomenon.

Validity: Factor analysis was used to measure itemvalidity for the Long Form. Theresults showed that the 18 scales have construct validity by supportingthe existence of separate scale dimensions.

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

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

Practical Utility

The ACS provides a means of helping individuals to evaluatetheir own coping style. It can beused:

To encourage young people to think in a structured wayabout how they have dealt with past difficulties and how they can transferthe strategies that have helped

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

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

The Long Form has proved “very straight forward and easyto use for both the administrator and participants”. However, it does need to be delivered on a one-to-one basis whenworking with Connexions clients who require higher levels of support. The ACS would probably not feature as partof an initial assessment, but rather would be used to explore specific issuesand concerns in greater depth when a stronger relationship had been establishedbetween client and Adviser. Workingon 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 closesupport to a young person “participants struck-up conversations”, elaboratedon their answers to items and ventured “information about the nature oftheir concerns”. The validity ofthe Scale may be seriously threatened if an individual requires a greatdeal of support to complete it. However,it is still felt that the ACS has great practical utility in such circumstancesbecause it is a self-help instrument that allows a young person to reflecton their own behaviour and initiate changes to their coping repertoire ifthey wish.

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

The ACS has also been administered individually to a groupof Year 10 pupils who had been permanently excluded from lessons. Their profiles showed that effective copingstrategies were being deployed outside of school and these included a strongemphasis on sport and physical activity.These findings confirmed the view of their teacher that they wouldnot necessarily need high levels of support once they left school.

Conclusion

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