Saturday, June 10, 2006

Coming Home and Other Things

I'm back from a conference in Vermont. It was for those of us in colleges and universities who provide disabilities services for students. Professionally, it was probably the only conference of true value that I've ever attended over the course of nearly 10 years. The strands were outstanding and I learned a lot. But personally, it was very rewarding as well, I think, mostly because I think I've discovered a few things to look out for.

The morning strand was on understanding learning disability assessments. These are usually conducted by a psychologist and use tools that I've not been trained on. Around here, most evaluators use the Woodcock-Johnson. It assesses a person's academic abilities in reading, writing, math, and thinking. Combined with an IQ test and using a discrepancy model, a learning disability can be uncovered. This article is a fiercely complete and understandable explanation of the up's and down's of testing.

As we talked about subtests and others like them, I was reminded that autistic kids cannot possibly perform properly on these tests, which is why many have probably been mislabeled in the past as intellectually disabled (this is the new PC term for mentally retarded). One example - a subtest question might ask a person to explain what is happening in a picture. Bird, for one, can't do that unless he can give a simple statement, "The girl is jumping" and usually because he's practiced it. In another subtest, the student is given a picture with a number of figures in it, like a dog and a man standing around a campfire with a tent and bear and stream in the background. The student is then asked to point to the features in a specific order - "Point to the dog, then the man, and then the fire." But then the directions can get more complicated - "Point to the man and then the fire, but if the stream is next to the bear, point to the bear and then the tent." I can't see Bird doing that. Maybe several years from now, but that kind of reasoning is out of reach for him. But I don't think he's MR in anyway. The kid is one of the most visually gifted people I've known. He's super quick if he can see the thing and often needs just one or two passes to "get it."

Bottom line: if Bird needs an IQ test or any other kind of assessment, I'm requesting something like the Kaufman (Follow the link for a good description about half way down). That would give a far more accurate measure of his abilities than something that would require speech. A standard IQ test would be a nightmare.

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