Sunday, October 3, 2010

Psychological Assessment

As we have watched Alex deep in thought over the years, Ed and I have often wondered what was going on in his mind. We were treated to a glimpse of his thought processes last week when we took him to a psychologist for testing. In the process of determining Alex’s eligibility for disability benefits, Social Security required that we take him to a psychologist to have his autism evaluated. This wasn’t a real surprise since Alex’s last complete evaluation was at age four when he was originally diagnosed with autism. Because we didn’t disagree with that diagnosis, we never pursued having him re-tested. A few years ago, we did take him to a psychiatrist, hoping to find help for his aggressive outbursts. However, this experience was basically a waste of two hundred dollars and an hour of time. Halfway into the appointment, after I had explained Alex and how autism affected him, the psychiatrist turned to me and said candidly, “Frankly, Mrs. Byrne, I think you know more about autism than I do.” Needless to say, we did not take him back to that doctor. In anticipation of last week’s appointment with the psychologist, I felt some trepidation, not knowing how this session would go, but Alex was excited, seeing this experience as a new adventure.

After asking Ed and me several questions about Alex’s strengths and weaknesses, the psychologist began to ask Alex questions to assess his abilities. Before the appointment, Ed and I had agreed that we would not come to Alex’s rescue by answering for him or prompting him to respond. We wanted him to represent himself accurately. However, we found it hard not to help him because, as Ed commented to me, we always want Alex to shine. Nonetheless, Alex was good natured and pleasant and answered the questions as well as he could. At times he had to twist his hair, or scratch his belly, or look around the room before he could give his response, but he was engaged in the process and was conscientious about doing the best he could. For one of the tests, the psychologist asked him to tell how two words were related. For example, he said apple and banana, to which Alex answered, “Fruits.” When asked about desk and chair, Alex knew to say, “Furniture,” and when given inch and mile, he said, “Measurements.” The next example was a bit trickier. He was asked how a poem and a statue are alike. I racked my brain, trying to think of a good answer, and found out later that Ed wasn’t certain what the definitive answer was, either. Alex thought carefully for a minute and then said, “Structures.” I thought that was a pretty good answer, and the psychologist seemed to find it interesting, too. Later, when given various real-life scenarios, such as what to do if you noticed a fire in a crowded theater or found a stamped and addressed envelope on the street, he was clueless as to how to respond. I’m not sure whether this is a language issue for him or a problem-solving weakness, but at least he didn’t become frustrated.

In another test, Alex was asked to explain the old saying, “Don’t cry over spilled milk.” Like many children with autism, Alex tends to be literal and doesn’t really understand figurative expressions. He began to laugh, though, and I suspect it was because he doesn’t drink milk due to his allergy to dairy products. Spilled milk doesn’t occur in his world. He then asked the doctor what the saying meant. The doctor explained it to Alex, turned to us, and commented, “He has a really great smile.” Next, he asked Alex to guess what time it was without looking at a clock, and Alex said that it was about 12:16. The exact time was 12:09, so his estimate was fairly accurate. To test Alex’s memory, he told him three objects to remember over time: a clock, an iron, and a table. Ed and I knew that he would remember the clock because he loves clocks. Several minutes later when asked what the three objects were, he remembered the clock and table but thought the third one was a desk, which had been mentioned in the association test. Since Alex doesn’t use an iron, and I rarely use one around him, I doubt it had significance for him. Later Ed told me that he couldn’t remember any of the objects, so Alex did better than he did. Another test of his memory involved repeating back strings of random numbers. Ed and I knew that he would do well at this activity because he has memorized hundreds of digits of pi, and we weren’t surprised that he completed this task easily. The doctor, however, seemed impressed that Alex not only could repeat the numbers in the correct order, but he could also recite them in reverse order. After we had also mentioned that Alex’s strengths lie in math, computers, and keyboarding, the psychologist suggested that with those skills, along with his memory and attention to detail, someday he might make a good computer systems analyst. We were pleased that he could see potential in Alex and not just the weaknesses. Moreover, we found this glimpse into Alex’s mind enlightening and uplifting because he did even better than we had expected. By stepping back and allowing him to be himself, Ed and I enjoyed watching Alex shine—all by himself, demonstrating the gifts God has given him.

“A man’s mind plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps and makes them sure.” Proverbs 16:9


K. C. said...

Sounds like a good experience for everyone. I was stumped by the poem/building question, too. Excellent answer, Alex!

Brian said...

Is the answer that a poem and a statue are both "Art" forms?

Fred Haeberle said...

Way to go Alex. If I ever have to take those tests, I'll want to use Alex as my "friend source" to help me with several of those tests. I think all three of you shined.


Pam Byrne said...

Hi K.C., Brian, and Fred,

The psychologist didn't tell us the correct answer to the poem and statue comparison. We're guessing that both are works of art or something creative. From Alex's mathematical mind, his answer of structures makes sense, though.

Fred, we've thought that Alex would make a good "phone-a-friend" for _Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?_ :) Thanks for your nice comments!

Take care,