As anyone who is familiar with the I.Q. debate know, I.Q. is a hotly contested factor. Originally started to figure out which children needed remedial help in school, the I.Q. quotient quickly became a measuring stick for ranking one’s overall intelligence in comparison to others. In the Social Darwinist era of American history, I.Q. was even used to demarcate which citizens were “feeble-minded” and therefore not allowed to have children; sterilization was recommended as part of the  eugenics movement to purify the American race. There have since been hundreds of studies on I.Q., perhaps thousands, to get to the heart of what I.Q. really is, if it is accurate, changeable, or reliable. The verdict is still out.

Simply, the I.Q. is a measurement of chronological age (how old your child is) divided by mental age (what age he is capable of thinking at).  100 is average, below 80 often qualifies for special education services, and above 120 or 130 often qualifies for gifted services.  50 or below is extremely retarded, above 150 is a genius.

As it concerns a young child, the question becomes whether or not you want your child to get his I.Q. tested, and when. For children who are suspected to be gifted, getting the I.Q. test is sometimes beneficial because if they qualify, they can receive special services for gifted children from the public school. But having someone label your child with a number is always difficult; if it is high, there is pressure and sometimes pride; if it is normal, there is disappointment and sometimes lowered expectations; if it is low, there is discouragement and sometimes fear. That number may mean more to you or the child than it should, especially if you see it as a free ticket or a death sentence.

But on the whole, getting gifted children tested is often a good idea. If your gifted child is experiencing strange anxieties, moods, or behaviors that are distressing to you, finding out that they have a high I.Q. is often a relief—at least you can probe how families of gifted children deal with these (very common) things!

Getting slow children tested is often not as helpful. It can be disheartening, and you may feel like any special education you give them may be in vain. But for children who are borderline, sometimes the I.Q. can be good news because you find out that your child qualifies for regular services at school or in fact needs special ones. This guide in placement is to the child’s benefit.

The trickier thing is when your child presents learning disabilities that interfere with his or her ability to take the I.Q. test to the best of their ability. Plenty of children with learning disabilities have perfectly normal I.Q’s, or even above average ones. But if a processing disorder, emotional problem, or ADD/ADHD cause them to be bad test takers, then they are going to get a below average score. You as a mom are then left to advocate for the child, based on your intuitive knowledge of what they are capable of. This can be difficult because you don’t know for certain either… why else get them tested? But in those cases, you as the mom really are in the best position to identify whether your child is above, at, or below grade level.

So how can you know? What about in the early years when there is no grade level? I think it is an art. One way I examined my own children who had learning disabilities in the early years was by looking at their eyes. You can tell a lot by the eyes. When my first son was young and not talking right, I got every opinion out there: he was autistic, he couldn’t hear, he was a genius, he was just a late bloomer. I wondered whether or not he had a low I.Q. because he was slow but also loveable, social, and interested in life (think, Forrest Gump!!). But rather than get him tested, I watched him while he played. Even though he was extremely limited in his verbal capacities, I could see him thinking. He was like a sponge for educational opportunities, especially videos. He was able to mimic skills he saw. And although he couldn’t talk about his memories, I could tell he remembered previous experiences and learned from them. He picked things up the first time we taught him, as long as it was something visual or motor-oriented, so he learned his shapes, colors, letters, animals all before two years old.  But he had some odd characteristics too, like bad eye contact, walking on his toes, and no imagination skills (even at 3.5 yrs old).  And we couldn’t explain the toilet thing at all.  So we knew something was up.

Turned out he had CAPD (Central Auditory Processing Disorder), and this was why he was behind. He wasn’t dumb, but he couldn’t learn things from language or explanation. He looked through you like a mirror when you tried explaining things to him or asked him about stuff. Suddenly autism, Asbergers, and low intelligence became non-options, which was a relief. But he still had symptoms that mimicked those types of disorders. And in special ed, they pretty much used the same methods to treat him as if he’d had one of those disabilities.  But the difference between him and a high-functioning autistic child, for example, was that he made remarkable progress once those language issues were addressed. Most of his odd physical behaviors stopped.  His imagination got going (after a year).  He could talk about memories that he’d stored a year and a half earlier. All kinds of things he’d thought about over the years started coming out, and I could see that he was thinking, reasoning about them. He was still behind for his age because he’d basically missed a year or two of auditory input—the learning from stories, questions, conversation, etc. But we were no longer in the “danger” category that we were a couple years ago. And all of this because of my looking at his eyes and watching him play.

My next son was bright as a button but didn’t test well because he hated the whole testing environment. He was emotional and clingy, and so they could barely get him to sit in a chair with the examiner (yes, I was right with him), let alone do what the examiner wanted. He was bawling his head off and saying “no” every time anyone asked him to do something. But they were asking him all kinds of things I knew he could do, and enjoyed at home, so each time I had to say, “Yes he can do that.” This worked fine for a 3.5yr old, so we got a pretty good diagnosis of the problem (sensory and vestibular impairment). But obviously if this type of behavior continues into his early childhood, he is going to obtain bad test results on I.Q. test or whatever tests he would take.  I will not be able to take his tests for him then.  But I will remain his advocate, as faithfully as I can.

So my parting encouragement is for children with learning disabilities to be viewed first as hindered from their true potential, not innately incapacitated. And I would skip the I.Q. test for a child who is diagnosed with developmental delays because the number will probably change as his or her true needs are dealt with—be they visual, auditory, occupational, attentional, emotional/social, etc. Wait until you need to get him tested (if ever), or at least a couple more years when you know he can handle the basic test-taking hurdles that don’t bother the average child. Be sensitive and patient. But if you don’t see evidence of particular developmental delays, and suspect a general inability to think, remember, or connect knowledge (again, think Forrest Gump!), then don’t be afraid to get the I.Q. It might be helpful to know.


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