Thursday, March 29, 2007

The Season of Testing

There are seasons created by the angle of the planet in relationship to its source of light and heat, and then there are seasons created by our calendars — by the activities and events that we organize around the cycles of the earth around the sun. In the autism parenting blogosphere, it seems that we are in the season of testing, which will soon give way to the season of placement meetings.

Many of us are shuffling out little ones off to the very best psychological professionals that our resources and geography allow, perhaps imagining that someone new and better could unravel some of the mysteries that are our beautiful children. Others of us are, perhaps wiser in that we hold out no hope that tests will tell us much about our dear ones, rely on testing provided through our faltering system of public education.

This time we were in the first group — we had sought out the services of the most highly recommended educational tester in the city. Either way, there is a day when the written report arrives, when we sit in front of it searching for signs: what does this score mean for her future, what does this line suggest about where we should send her to school, what could we do for her that we aren't already doing?

For me, that day was Monday. The report came as an email attachment. Because we'd gone to such a sought-after evaluator, it had taken more than two months to get the write up. But when it was finally done, it came instantaneously.

Perhaps it was worth the wait. For the first time ever we have a report that seems to be written in English — I can't even find a single phrase of arch psychobabble therein. And, as the doctor told me back on the day of the testing, Sweet M's IQ jumped by ten full points. She is described as cooperative and compliant (rather than oppositional and defiant, as in the prior report). And next week we'll meet with him to ask him about his assessment and recommendations.

All of this would seem to be good news, wouldn't it? But still I am left this week longing for some image of the child in the fourteen single-spaced pages, some signs of Sweet M herself. There is one place, midway through, where the report mentions her idiosyncratic speech:
M's thought process was difficult to evaluate more precisely due to her reported expressive language difficulties. However, there are some concerns regarding her functioning in this arena as her verbalizations did appear to be idiosyncratic and unusual. As mentioned earlier, she would often begin responses with “I vote,” “I’m voting,” or “My choice is.”
Ah yes. There she is. That's her, that's that dear girl. Back in January she would start her sentences that way. Now she has moved along to another phrase . . . if you ask her a question she'll say "According to my calculations . . . " and scratch her head as though she's deep in thought. My guess is that all of this is strategy to stall, so that she has a few extra seconds to try to formulate the expressive language she needs to reply to the question at hand.

What was most interesting in his findings was the lack of verbal working memory that little M possesses. I found this fascinating, and so set out to do my own testing.

We were lying around on the bed, and I said: "M, let's do an experiment — a listening experiment."

"Okay!" she replied brightly.

"Listen carefully to what I say."

"Okay!"

"I'm going to say three things, then ask you a question."

"Okay!"

"Ready?"

"Okay!"

I spoke slowly and paused briefly between each sentence.

"The house was red. The car was green. The dog was brown. What color was the house?"

"Can you say it again?"

"The house was red. The car was green. The dog was brown. What color was the house?"

"Green?"

"Hmmh. Nope. Sounds like it was hard to remember. Let's try something else."

"Okay!"

"I'm going to say three sentences, and I want you to repeat them after me, then I'm going to ask you a question, okay?"

"Uh-huh."

"The house was blue."

"The house was blue," she repeated after me.

"The car was green."

"The car was green."

"The flower was pink."

"The flower was pink."

"What color was the house?"

"The house was blue!" she exclaimed.

So she can't remember the language unless she repeats it — one of those crucial functions of echolalia.

I try to imagine what my life would feel like if every time a new set of words came into my ears the content of the second to last set disappeared. How confusing, how scary, how anxiety-provoking would that be?

The seasons come around each year, and as a species we've had millennia to grow accustomed to them, to learn about them, to see the repetition in them, to take it in. Each year some of the same things, over and over and over again. Repetition. And with this most recent swing around the sun, with the season of reporting, more light than heat.

6 comments:

mcewen said...

Sweet M is a lucky girl to have someone so intuitive and patient...
' so that she has a few extra seconds to try to formulate the expressive language she needs to reply to the question at hand.'
We have this and the echolalia issues too. I agree with you, that when you think of the chaos of information slipping in and out, it's easy to understand their frustration.
Best wishes

Club 166 said...

Excellent experiment! How perceptive of you to devise that.

You probably found out just as much about sweet M in 5 minutes as the psych testers did in several hours.

Now you need to see if whether she will still remember them if she repeats to herself "in her mind", or if the statements need to be vocalized.

David N. Andrews MEd (Distinction) said...

Speaking as a psychologist...

Way to go!

Sadly, as C166 points out, you probably found out a lot. Issue being this: there's a lot of information denied us when all we rely on is nomothetic and quantitative research. Which is why the best way to do things is to mix both quantitative AND qualitative investigative methods.

In educational psychology we learn that as a matter of course.

kristina said...

Echolalia can be somewhat like thinking out loud?---how often do we repeat what someone just said in our heads to think it over more carefully? (Especially if one is listening to a foreign language.....)

My mind kept returning to the map of heavenly motion that you have at the start of your post, and how this is just the smallest scrap representing the reality of the kosmos----so much, or so little, do tests represent M.

a mommy said...

Clever, clever mom to think of ways of getting at how Sweet M does things and what she needs. What matters most is what works for Sweet M. Oddly, if she is like William, you will find that the short term memory for anything BUT words is fantastic beyond belief. Use numbers or shapes, William can keep 20 items in short term memory. Use words, the whole process breaks down.

Sometimes I think of it like this: the ears just aren't the good way to get into their brain. It's like climbing over a fence and breaking a window. The eyes are a door, and so is the mouth: take that information coming in by ear, move it to the mouth, chew on it a little, and voila! It gets in.

MothersVox said...

Thanks for the feedback everyone! You've inspired me to try a reading version of this . . .

I think M has enough reading skills now that I can do a three sentence reading version of this and see if she remembers the first item when it's something she's read . . .

That will help sort out whether it's auditory or linguistic information that she can't store in short term memory.

I'll keep you posted!