Friday, May 25, 2007


A while back I posted about the strange results of the IQ test that MK got as part of the many batteries of tests that he was put through in order to get his autism diagnosis. It came back showing him on the MR borderline. As I mentioned here, with some arguing and explaining on my part (which included links to this blog) the psychologist agreed that it did not fit with the way he got Bs on standardized tests in grade four. We were pretty sure that MK had simply not been there during the test. He is capable of playing Sonic-X videos in his head, while simultaneously creating the illusion that he is engaged in a conversation.

We had to wait two months for a retest, which was not fun. The reason it was not fun is that his teachers, whose combined knowledge of learning differences could be written out on a grain of rice using a magic marker, had decided that the problem with MK was that he was not smart enough to handle the things they teach in school, and that all of his odd behavior could be explained as a stress reaction to the unreasonable demands placed on his wee little brain. The fact that he got As and Bs in his last school (where, unlike his current school, the teachers had Masters degrees and were required to rack up continuing education credits) was seen by his new teachers as proof of their hypothesis. To earn those kinds of grades, he would have had to have been beaten every day, which goes even further to explaining his odd behavior. So you can imagine how good for our morale it was to be trying to set these teachers straight, while we knew that, down at the psychiatrist's office, there were a set of test results that, if used as is, would have proved his teachers right.

At long last, however, the retest date rolled around. By that point we had discussed what an IQ test was and why it was important to pay attention during one (the last time we had told him it was just for fun). The psychologist also suggested that I stay in the room so that I could call for a break if I noticed that MK was in fact watching videos (it's possible to tell, but you have to know what to look for).

Long story short, MK did fine this time around. He is back to having an IQ squarely in the normal range. In order to get a measure that was not going to be contaminated by the practice effect, the psychologist did a non-verbal battery that he hadn't done on the previous occasion, but he also repeated some of the standard WISC subtests so he could see if MK was actually performing differently. Apparently his score jumped 20 points across the board. He only got bored and started playing videos in his head once (that I was able to notice). I suggested a break when I saw it was happening. After the break, the psychologist repeated the last few questions, which he had answered incorrectly. Naturally he answered them correctly when he wasn't watching internal videos, which gave us a very specific and clear example of what had gone wrong the last time round.

We were very lucky to have a psychologist who was interested in testing MK in a way that would reflect what he could do, rather than what he happened to do. I have a feeling that it was something of a learning experience for the psychologist, too. I shudder to think, however, about what happens when these tests go wrong without anyone noticing. We had previous testing and various other numerical measures to back our contention that this psychologist's first attempt had got it wrong. If we had not had that, I doubt we would have gotten the retest. And that, of course, would have meant that MK would have been pulled out of the academic curriculum. You can be sure that this very thing has happened before to other kids and that many of those kids have been stuck with their inaccurate scores.

And while I am on the subject of IQ tests, let me just wax eloquent and say that they really suck. A big component is just checking to see which words the kid knows. In the year 2007 you would have thought that learned people would have come to understand that the words a person does or does not know are determined by which words are used around the person. Even some of the non-verbal tests were actually tests of knowledge. If you don't know what a stage coach is and how the drivers of these vehicles dressed, you are not going to be able to pick those two items as corresponding pair to an astronaut and a spaceship. I would have expected almost all the tests to be centered on processing, but almost none were. Our guy came off more or less OK. I imagine that his IQ test will continue to improve with time (at the end of the retesting, it was up as compared to the tests done two years ago). But other kids, who are just as intelligent or more so, will get low scores for reasons that have nothing to do with intelligence. It does not seem that we have learned much over the past 50 years.

Given the cultural biases of the ordinary classroom, I guess that these tests will give a fairly accurate predictive measure of how well a kid will fare if dropped into such a classroom, but I think it would also be useful to have a measure of how well a kid is likely to do in a theoretical culturally neutral learning environment. Which is to say, how well the child will do if taught in a manner adapted to his or her preexisting knowledge of the world. The reason I care so much about cultural biasing is that autistic people are, almost by definition, culturally deviant. For example, even if they are exposed to the same story as their NT peers, they are likely to focus on different aspects. They listen for different things in conversations. They focus on different places in pictures. And so on and so forth. The end result is that their cultural experience is different from the cultural experience of their NT peers. In many cases this difference in cultural experience will be even greater than that of, for example, someone who grew up in China vs. someone who grew up in Brazil. I know that there do exist supposedly culturally neutral IQ tests. In my opinion, those should be the only tests on persons suspected of being on the spectrum.

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