Month: January 2019

A Little IQ Story

Ok, this was years ago, at least 20 years ago, but it stuck with me because it is kind of funny and makes a good point about “IQ testing.”

Enjoy your kids strengths without focusing on “IQ.”

I was evaluating a brother and sister because their parents wanted to know their learning style and their IQ’s.  I don’t recall if they actually had any learning concerns (the main focus of my work) about the kids, but the parents really wanted to know their IQ’s.  This is the sort of testing that I would not even do today.  If a parent calls with the “I want to know my child’s IQ” I give them my “knowing your IQ is like knowing the day you are going to die” lecture and talk them out of it (unless we can find a good reason to do it).

But this was in my olden days and I did the testing.  The kids had good IQ’s, somewhere around 115 to 120 – above average, but not “gifted.” However, these were nice, go-to-college, be-anything-you-want scores.  These children were youngish, about 8 and 10 years old.  They would  be maturing into some other skills that would also help them achieve.

The parents were devastated.

“But my husband’s IQ is 132 and mine is 150.”  I swear the mother said this multiple times as she tried to process these (to her) terrible scores her children had achieved.  Neither parent could understand how they had produced only-slightly-above-average children.  They were sure, with their own superior scores, their children would also be gifted.

I finally thought to ask the right question.  After another lament of “But my husband is a 132 and I am a 150.  How did this happen?” I thought to ask, “Who did your IQ testing?”

The mother answered, “Mine was part of a group testing done in my school when I was a child. My husband’s testing was done by his mother when she was training to give these tests.”

Even as she said it, she began to understand her years of slightly misguided thinking about these wonderful scores.  I smiled wryly and said, “Those group administered IQ tests don’t really count in comparison to individualized testing .  And the score certainly doesn’t count if YOUR MOTHER gave the test.”   From here, these parents reached a point of being enlightened, somewhat relieved, still a little disappointed, and reasonably amused at themselves.  Instead of getting the gifted children they had expected, they got an understanding of IQ testing and the  slightly harsh realization that they were a family of smart, but not necessarily highly gifted, people.

I told them that highly gifted was not the easiest thing to be.  Being just plain smart was much easier.

I reassured them that they were both smart people and that their children were bright and had the cognitive abilities to do well in life.

Sometimes, I could really do without the concept of IQ.

The IQ Test and your child

Should I get my child’s IQ tested?

The short answer is NO(!)  . . . UNLESS you have a good reason and you understand what IQ testing has become.  It’s better to understand that stuff in advance, but few people do.

IQ (a judgement about a person’s intelligence) is a loaded concept with a controversial  and often dark history.  The IQ test or evaluation also had a loaded history.  But as with most things, the tests have evolved over time and test developers continue to try to make them more useful.  There has been so much evolution in the concept and the tests, that I know longer refer to IQ in my assessments (even though I give those tests).  IQ is just too loaded a concept and why freak everybody out.

But why duck and dodge around “the IQ?”

I remember my first developmental psychology professor talking about IQ testing.  I was 18 and what she said stuck with me to this day.  She said, “Knowing your IQ is like knowing the day you are going to die.  It does not matter what it is, you are not going to be quite happy about it.”

What she meant was – If the number is high, you worry about living up to that potential.  If the number is too low (by your estimation), you think, “Can I achieve anything with that!?!”  And what if it is average?  Our society seems to crave superlatives, average just won’t do.

Back then, in 1980 or so, we were often still focusing on a single score in the IQ test.  That weighty single number that summarized your cognitive ability. . . . set in stone . . . . forever. . . for better or for worse.

I am here to clear that up.

Here are some things to remember about an IQ test.

  • The IQ test is not the oracle. It is not going to produce a magic number that can be used to predict your child’s future.
  • An IQ score is not set in stone, particularly for children. There are a number of factors that can cause a score to go up or down (again, particularly in children).
  • An IQ, even with multiple subtests, is not the sum total of who your child is (it’s not even the sum total of his cognitive ability).

And don’t get me wrong.  I like IQ tests.  I give them all the time.  I just do not tell people I am giving them an IQ test.  I say, “I am exploring your cognitive profile, looking for strengths and weaknesses.”

It’s now all about the cognitive profile

The commonly used IQ tests have evolved into something different.   With each update of the various IQ tests, the singular IQ score becomes less of a focus.  Basically, we gave up on the elusive and singular score that represents thinking.  Now there is a focus on a person’s “cognitive profile.”  We measure several types of thinking and processing.   Although there is a single summarizing score available, we often pay little attention to the single score.  We are more interested in “the profile.”

The most common “reasoning” areas assessed include:

  • Verbal Reasoning – This is how a person works with words and uses language to think and express themselves
  • Visual Spatial Reasoning – This is how a person uses visual and spatial skills to solve problems, such as duplicating designs or solving visual puzzles.
  • Fluid Reasoning – This is how a person integrates information to draw a conclusion either visually or verbally. Think “butterfly goes with butterfly net, so fish goes with . . . “
  • Quantitative Reasoning – This is the ability to use mathematical principles to solve problems
  • Knowledge – This reflects how much information a person has absorbed and retained. This is also dependent on how much information a child has been exposed to.

Most IQ tests also incorporate tests of “processing.”  These are subtests that are sensitive to learning disabilities or other impediments to learning.  Typical areas assessed include:

  • Processing Speed – These are usually fairly simple visual tasks that are assessing how quickly someone works. There is no problem solving or reasoning involved. Just work quickly.
  • Working Memory – These are tasks that require people to hold information in their heads and work with it.  The tasks range from simply repeating number sequences to solving math word problems mentally.

But Processing Scores Often Change the Overall Score

It’s convenient to have these processing subtests in the test, but they certainly color or influence the summary IQ score.  In fact, the inclusion of more “processing” subtests in the last 20 years of IQ test development has changed how school districts determine who gets special education services.  In the past (when IQ tests were not sensitive to learning disabilities), the determination for services was made on the discrepancy between the IQ score and the academic scores.  (IQ score higher than academic score=learning disability.)   But the inclusion of Processing subtests “pulled down” the IQ score for kids with learning disabilities, closing the discrepancy in many cases.  Many school districts had to change their criteria for determining who received special education services.

So, the IQ test has evolved into something that will give you 4-6 subdomain scores (some about reasoning and some about processing skills) and an overall IQ score.  (Most of the major tests have even moved away from calling it IQ. They simple refer to it as a “General Cognitive Ability” score or something like that.  Even the test developers know that IQ is a loaded concept and prone to misinterpretation).  These 4-6 subdomains each have a score that goes into the profile.  This can result in a mountain range of scores from below average to above average . . . . or a series of below average scores . . . . or a series of higher scores . . . are a single low or high score amongst a series of more consistent scores.

The profile is the thing that matters.  This is what gives us insight into a child’s ways of reasoning and learning. For example:

  • If the reasoning scores are high, but the processing speed is low, then this is a child who is quite bright, but will need extra time to show it.
  • A weakness is working memory is often a marker for dyslexia.
  • High Visual Spatial skills, but low Verbal skills means this child might struggle from kindergarten through high school, but sill make a great architect or construction engineer.

A lot of research has gone into what can be gleaned from 10 subtests.  Good evaluators can tell you a lot about your child’s learning by looking at their profile.

So what is an IQ test?

  • It is ten to twelve subtests. It is NOT the subtotal of who your child is.
  • It is a profile of 4 to 5 cognitive and processing abilities and says nothing about creativity, emotional status, social intelligence, academic ability or any myriad of factors that will play a part in your child’s future.
  • It’s a tool . . . an extremely useful one in the hands of a good evaluator. But, like any tool, it can be mis-used and mis-interpreted.  It is also only one of many tools we have at our disposal and only one of many tools that need to be used in a comprehensive evaluation.
Does the IQ test tell you everything
IQ Testing does not measure everything about a child

I like these tests.  I give them all the time.  In addition to scores, I pay attention to the child’s attention, behavior, motivation and all sorts of fun stuff (like who ends up sitting on the table while working) while giving the test.  These tests tell me stuff, but they do not tell me everything I need to know.

If you would like more information about evaluations, learning challenges, attention problems, behavior issues and ways of supporting or treating these, leave a question or check out our book, Child Decoded.

Should I have my child’s learning evaluated?

Should I have my child’s learning evaluated?  And by whom?

New Year, New Start

Decode your child's learning with a good evaluation
It’s time to evaluate

We feel inspired and ready to tackle problems in January.  Fresh starts are great.  I love January for this.  (Sure, it’s random.  We can fresh start ANYTIME, but January is sort of a symbolic and traditional time to do so.  Jump on the bandwagon).

January is a key time for parents to consider an evaluation.  We are about halfway through the school year, so if any problems are going to emerge, they usually have by now.  (or you knew about the problems in August and they are still there).  You might be hearing:

  • She is not keeping pace in reading even though she seems to be really trying.
  • He is still having trouble following the routine and completing tasks.
  • Handwriting is not improving. He needs to try harder.
  • She cries a lot, sometimes over the littlest things.
  • Peer relations are a concern. He does not have any friends.
  • He hit someone, he bit someone, he threw his book at someone.

The teacher may have already put some strategies in place without the desired improvement.  The school’s occupational therapist or speech therapist or social worker or learning specialist may be have been called in to consult, but still . . . the expected (desired) gains are not there.  There may even be a 504 Plan or Individual Education Plan in place, but your child does not seem to be progressing.  What do you do?

Should you have your child evaluated?

  • If the problem or concern has been noticeable for more than a few months, an evaluation of some type will likely be helpful. If the problem emerged recently, particularly in response to a life change (a family move, different school, divorce or other loss), your child just may need more support during this transition time.  Some time with the school counselor (or a private counselor) may help.  A little tutoring to help a child adapt to a new type of instruction may do the trick.
  • If there is a family history of reading disability, attention problems, speech or language delays or academic problems in general, your child might be growing just as the family tree grows. An evaluation may be enlightening for several generations.
  • If your child has had bumpy development for years, a good, thorough evaluation will be helpful. Some children were slow to walk, then slow to talk, then slow to learn colors, then slow to learn to read, then slow with writing.  And maybe with each milestone, a little extra helped seemed to boost them enough to move forward. So you keep hoping things are ok. Then the teacher calls again.  A thorough evaluation may shed some light on the patterns and everyone can build a more comprehensive plan.
  • If your child has a history of chronic illness or significant injury, a developmental evaluation can augment a medical evaluation. Everyone may be attributing the academic problem to missed school, fatigue or even frustration, but some illnesses or injuries do cause changes in the brain (even an illness or injury that does not seem in any way close to the brain). A good evaluation of development and learning can support overall recovery, as well as learning.
  • If you, as a parent, just have a persistent nagging feeling that all is not right. Trust your gut.

What type of evaluation?

  • Your school district can evaluate your child. Your child is legally entitled to a free and appropriate public education. An evaluation is often needed to determine what exactly is appropriate for a particular child. However, school districts around the country (and even schools within a district) can vary wildly as to the depth of the evaluation.  In addition, school evaluations are often not diagnostic evaluations.  The evaluation will try to identify the problem, but not the source of the problem.  The evaluation will not typically come with a diagnosis, simply a conclusion of whether your child meets criteria for extra services. But, hey, it is free and is essential for triggering special education services (and a great team can do a great evaluation).
  • If the school evaluation did not shed enough light on things or if you want to explore issues in more depth, parents will need to look into resources outside of the school. Now there are more options to consider. First off, do you go big or do you go small?
    • If your child is delayed in a single area (language impairment, delayed reading, terrible handwriting, or math confusion), but there are no other concerns, then a small specific evaluation may do the trick. If the teachers (or coaches or you) see that your child has friends, pays attention in class, follows routines, stays with tasks fairly well, and otherwise manages that day, then a focused evaluation of the core issue by a learning specialist, reading specialist, language specialist or occupational therapist (for writing) will likely suffice.
    • If there are concerns in more than one area or if a more focused evaluation (and intervention) has not helped your child make progress, then a more comprehensive developmental evaluation maybe needed. This would be an evaluation that carefully reviews the history and assesses your child in multiple areas.  This would include a cognitive profile, an academic profile, assessment of attention control, language skills, memory, and problem solving,  as well as screening of emotional style and sensory motor processing. This should provide enough information to understand your child’s needs, make a diagnosis if warranted, and lay out a course of action.

There is one clear benefit of an evaluation independent of the school district.  A private evaluation can make recommendations for both private and school-based treatments.  A school district cannot recommend educational or developmental resources outside of the district without being held financially responsible for them.  A private evaluator can help parents explore a wider range of resources (even if they are not free).

How do you find a good evaluator?

Within the school district, you do not have much choice.  Your child will be evaluated by the team of specialists (learning specialist, psychologist, occupational therapist, speech/language specialist) assigned to the school. However, you do have some choices. If your child has unique needs (e.g., non-verbal or English is not their first language or history of head injury), you can ask for a specialist within the district (there often is one) to participate in the evaluation.  If there is no specialist in the district, you can ask that the district pay for someone who has the expertise to evaluate your child.

Outside of the school district, the sky is the limit.  It’s very intimidating.  There are a lot of specialists out there and they are all proud of their work. Quite frankly, child psychologists are your most likely source for comprehensive testing, but even so, not all of us specialize in evaluations.  Here are a few strategies to narrow down your options:

  • Talk to your pediatrician. They often have a list of people that their patients have had good experiences with.
  • Call the local medical school or university to inquire if there is a child development clinic and what types of assessments are done.
  • Call the local learning disability association (or check their website) and see if they have a list of preferred evaluators for children with needs like your child’s.
  • Look for private child development clinics (I practice in one) that can provide both comprehensive and domain specific evaluations.
  • You can check with tutoring centers, but the evaluation there is typically geared to laying out a plan of treatment within that program. While the program may be helpful, the evaluation is likely not a diagnostic evaluation. In addition, the evaluator within that program may not have a broad range of experiences (she may only know that program).

Here are a few questions to ask when considering an evaluator:

  • MOST IMPORTANT-Describe your child and then ask, “Do you have experience with children similar to mine?”
  • “Will you be able to make a formal diagnosis if needed?”
  • “What are the costs of the evaluation? Will that include a written report?”
  • “Do you take insurance?” “Does insurance cover this type of evaluation?”
  • “What if I have additional questions after the evaluation is concluded?

And find an experienced, but humble, evaluator because:

“Not everything that can be measured is important, and not everything that is important can be measured”  ~a quote coughed up by the internet, attributed to Albert Einstein, and based on something said by William Bruce Cameron (but it really fit here)

Evaluation is my life!  There is so much more information than can be included in a simple blog post.  I would love to hear what questions you have and how I can help.  We also included a lot more information in our book, Child DecodedCheck it out for in-depth information about evaluations, as well as a wealth of information on learning, behavioral or attention challenges (and their treatments).

New Years Resolutions-no worries, just reflections

We all need a little me-time, even if it is just some time for reflection

I like New Year’s Resolutions.

Some people hate them.  Some people think they are useless.  Some people think you are only setting yourself up for failure if you make them.

Not me.

Maybe its because I think of them more as reflections, than resolutions.  My New Year’s Resolutions mean I have taken some me-time to consider what is important for me, not just my family or my career.  Every parent (particularly if you have a child with a disability) has been told, “You have to take care of yourself first if you want to take care of everyone else.”  And we all know how that goes.  But, like any skill your child is learning, you don’t have to get it right the first time.  Just remember to keep practicing (and move the goalposts a little when you need to).

So here, on the first of the year, with a cat on my lap, hot tea at my side, and three teenagers still asleep, I am taking some “me time”.  And since I LIKE to write, I am sharing it out.

After big changes in 2017 (publishing a book, adopting two teenagers) and a super busy 2018 (trying to find time to market the book while uber-parenting two new teens), it is time for 2019.  What do I want for me?

  • Eat better– I always make this one and I make little inroads each year. This is also a moving target. My needs change and evolve. I have noticed my metabolism slowing during my 40’s and 50’s, but I swear, last week it stopped.  I have decided I can have all the fruits, vegetables and protein I want, while limiting carbs and sugar.  I will let you know how that goes.
  • Exercise a little more– Yeah, another repeat resolution, but why not? It might re-start my metabolism.  I started over Christmas, lets see if I can finally stick with hitting the gym a few times a week.
  • Mediocre Parenting – Last year, I was the best mom I could be to my two new teens. I don’t get 18 years to model good mom behavior because they are already 16 and 18.  I had to work fast. I am inordinately proud of them for how they have managed this tremendous transition. However, I told them last night that in celebration of our one-year mark, I would be doing less and helping them be more independent so they can launch when they are ready to.  Bring on the bus passes!  Hand over the laundry duty! Yay me!
  • Write more – I love to write, but somehow it gets put in the category of “me time”. Maybe I will have more time when I am not picking up from school or doing laundry.
  • Get rid of stuff – While my new teens have reveled in getting stuff and loved earning money to buy it for themselves (ah, the power of spending money), I want to continue to shed things.  This will be made a little harder by my teens who love to gift me with perfume, make-up, shampoos, lotions, and all things teenage girls love.  No worries, there is lots to shed here without turning down their sincere gifts.
  • Reduce my plastic consumption– In the Reduce, Re-Use, Recycle mantra, I will focus on the first because I have the latter two down pat. What I like most about this one, is it is such a mental challenge.  It requires an alertness to things I ordinarily do not pay any attention to.  And although it is a mental challenge, ultimately, it simplifies my life in deeper ways.
  • Get More Sleep – An oldie, but goodie. I make it with great conviction every year and am still often failing spectacularly.

And failing is ok.  Little bits of progress count.  Partial successes are great.  (Heck, maintaining my current weight would be progress enough!).  These are my reflections upon my life and what would be good for me.  I have to integrate these into a complex of family and career life.  I can’t expect perfection of myself any more than I expect it of my kids.

But I have had successes over the years. A few of my favorites are:

  • Don’t sweat the small stuff – This is a life saver when parenting. I let the small stuff slide.  I may mention little problems to my teens, but why harp, why yell, why spend my precious time over things that do not directly impact their future, safety or health?  So when they fall asleep in their clothes on some weekend nights (because that is the only time their phones are allowed in their bedrooms), I may roll my eyes and say , “Really!!” but I am not going to worry about it.
  • Model the coping I want to see – I think I have mastered this one at least 95% of the time. I want to model calm, I want to model problem-solving, I want to model good decision making (even if that means saying, “I don’t even know what to do in this situation, let me think about it for a bit.”).  This took YEARS of practice!  It is not an overnight skill.  But now, when a teenager is punching a brick wall because I will not let her walk home with their new boyfriend, or when the school calls to tell me someone went off-campus for lunch and was 30 minutes late getting back, or when I walk downstairs after New Years Eve to find the den littered with candy wrappers, dirty glasses, empty bowls, and random teenage detritus, I am calm.  There are important discussions to be had with the first two issues and a simple request to go clean up for the last problem.  They do laugh about this one because I did yell yesterday when I realized that two teens were riding in the car without seatbelts while the third teen was driving through a snowstorm on a busy highway.  I kept the yell short, just one sentence (another accomplishment).
  • Clear pee – yes, staying well hydrated was a goal one year.

Wish me luck in 2019!