Friday, June 8, 2007

ADHD, IQ Tests, and Me

When I was a child in the early 1970’s, I was diagnosed as being “hyperactive,” today I would have been diagnosed as having Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Many of those who know me best today think that I still have ADHD. Normally, I like my somewhat scatterbrained “stream of consciousness” intellectual style, one way in which I describe myself is “The tangent is my favorite trig function, I’m always flying off on one.”

However, as a 42 y/o student going for an Electrical Engineering degree, in classes with students half my age, many of which were in honors math classes throughout high school, while little old me got straight D’s in 9th grade algebra, I found I had to work that much harder at putting in a 6 hour concentrated study session and staying focused throughout. This is now harder than it once was; when the “math light” however dimly, came on in my early 20’s, I started taking college courses and found that through a sheer effort of will and passion to learn, I managed to do okay. So in light of my current struggles, I undertook to see if I still had ADHD to such an extent that it would be treatable.

I expected to undergo a battery of tests administered by a psychologist and that indeed is what I got. During the interview portion of the tests, she asked me if I had ever taken an IQ test and I replied with a qualified “no.” My first college algebra book contained one of those little Mensa mini IQ tests and I had taken one of those online versions and did quite well (130’ish), but never a real IQ test, administered by a mental health professional.

The whole series of tests lasted about five hours spread over two days, 2 ½ hours at a time. The first day went well. The proctor gave me strings of numbers and or letters of increasing length and complexity and I was to repeat them as accurately as possible. I did quite well on this part, but when it came to repeating such strings backwards, I bombed. As I described it to the psychologist, it was like I was playing a game of Quidditch (from Harry Potter) and just when I thought I had the Golden Snitch (the answer) it would fly off like a bat out of hell.

During our chat prior to the second day’s tests, I asked the psychologist if the tests I was being given were an actual IQ test, for which I would get a score and she said yes. My eyebrows went up at that point and while I was not, to my mind, nervous, it was in the back of my mind throughout that day’s testing and for the next several days and one might go so far as to say that I was anxious to find out what my score was. I will freely admit that one source of my anxiety was my ego, in a tongue-in-cheek sort of way. The other, more rational reason, is the fact that things are not as easy for me in school as I had hoped they would be and if my score was low, then I would have to consider the very real possibility that I ought not to be in college.

One of the tests involved taking four to five tiles, each about 2 inches square, depicting little vignettes and arranging them so that they told a coherent story. I did quite well on them I noted that many of them had a humorous or ironic dénouement. I said as much to the psychologist and she said that the cognitive process of identifying irony and/or humor is quite subtle and closely correlates with intelligence. I then hitched a ride on my favorite trig function and brought up the “Danish Cartoon Fiasco” and how many Muslims must suffer from "Irony Deficiency Disorder.” In the aftermath of the Cartoon incident, pictures were shown world-wide of Muslims carrying signs which said things like “kill those who say Islam is a violent religion,” the blatant irony of their statement obviously lost on them.

So anyway, I got my report back today and yeah, I could join MENSA if I wanted, with points to spare. I also have ADHD, I have just become really good at compensating for it, which in turn drags down other areas that were tested which go into figuring a persons IQ. The point is that if you are having problems and don’t quite know why, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Also remember, do not let your score, low or high, go to your head. You can always improve and if you don’t use it you may loose it. It is not the talents that we have that determine our worth, it is whether, and how, we choose to make use of, and build upon, what we already have.

P.S. I am also pleased to report that they do attempt to figure in cultural differences when attempting to evaluate a person’s IQ and while such tests may not be perfect, efforts are being made to make them as relevant as possible.