Statistics is a scientific tool that is used to describe the characteristic of different samples and to help describe uncertainty. Like any tool, statistics can be used wisely or misused. Standardized tests are tests that are used to measure how well a person performs and then compare them to the rest of the population, statistically that is.
When Ethan was young and we had just started teaching him, the school district required that we test him. We agreed but insisted that we be present during the test so that we could observe him.
The psychologist administering the test decided to use the Peabody, a test designed to test nonverbal kids. To our dismay, every picture he put in front of Ethan was an artist sketch of the real object. Ethan struggled to generalize from the photos he knew to the drawings. We also lived in New York City and one of the questions was about a lawn mower. I believe that over 95% of the young children in New York City have ever seen a lawn mower.
We were at a loss because Ethan could generalize across photos but could not generalize to black and white drawings. After much research, the concept of thinking in pictures took on a whole new meaning. We had discovered that Ethan needed to be exposed to a huge number of photos, drawings both color and black and white in order to formulate his own rule for defining objects. Thinking in pictures means storing memories in pictures and therefore comparing pictures to determine “sameness.” That was the birth of Visual Communication Analysis.
How does this effect standardized testing? Suppose that you gave an Western child, a nonverbal test that was standardized for the Japanese population. This test would have pictures of chopsticks, kimonos, samurais, a blowfish, etc. It would contain all the images that were common to the Japanese culture. Any Western child would score very low on this standardized test as they would have never been exposed to the objects.
After administering this test on the Western child, would we conclude that he was not capable and intellectually disabled (or mentally retarded in the old days before “political correctness”). I would tend to think that any professional who concluded that the Western child was not able would be subject to dismissal.
Now, how do we expect an autistic child who is not part of the standardized population to perform well on these tests and why do we label them once they fail these standardized tests? In the world of statistics, we have to question the validity of the assumptions of the population before we draw any conclusions.
I say the same is true in the world of autism!
By Dalia Shkedy – Ethan’s Mom