Testing the Tester…

Something happened last week at the neurology appointment that reminded me that my son is different, in more ways than one.  Some of his behaviors do not occur on a daily basis, but when they show up, they make an…uh… “impression”.  And I don’t mean in a good way.

 It all started about 2 or so years ago before ABA began.  The iPhone was relatively new and I purchased an app for my son.  The app was “Toddler Teasers”.  It’s a game where the child is given three or four choices and a voice asks a question which requires the child to touch the correct picture for an answer, i.e., “Touch the yellow star.”  Each correct answer ends in applause.  After three or four correct answers, the child is given a virtual sticker that he can place on a virtual background.  And so it continues.

My son used to LOVE this game, just before he turned 3 years old. Once he knew all the answers, he began to “experiment” with the game.  He would, purposefully, choose the wrong answer.  With each wrong answer, the question is repeated until the only correct choice is left.  He thought this was funny.  He would play it “backward”, eliminating all answers, except for the correct one, and laugh maniacally at himself.

At first, I was concerned that he “forgot” simple concepts.  I quickly realized this was his manipulated version of the game.  Multiple thoughts ran through my head at the time.  First, I told him this was not the way the game was supposed to be played and mommy didn’t like it.  He laughed.

Busy manipulating apps...

Next, I reflected on myself.  Was I being hypersensitive about a little game?  Clearly, he was bored with it the “regular” way and was inventive enough to manipulate it.  I wondered if I should just let it go.  After all, maybe I was just being too anal.  I knew he knew the answers.  I figured he’d behave differently if it was a real test.  But, in the back of my mind, I wondered.

When the diagnosis came, there was a series of testing that was performed.  I watched.  He ignored the psychologist administering the test for numerous questions and answered wrong for questions to which he knew the answers.  I kept trying to explain to the psychologist that he knew the answers.  She noted that in the report but his scores did not reflect his ability from a cognitive perspective.

I don’t pretend to know all the things psychologists or other professionals take into consideration in assessing a child for behavioral and cognitive deficits.  However, I know my son.  I know what he can and cannot do.  Yet, I was beginning to see that the Toddler Teasers app behavior was transferring into the real world.  The world of labels and assessments.  Of course, the rest of his scoring well within the range of learning disabilities, my son qualified for all kinds of funded programs, so it was a blessing in a way.  But it’s always difficult for a parent to stand to the side, while the child purposefully undermines himself.

Since the day of that diagnosis, my son has undergone repeated “assessments”, testing, questioning and more testing.  Each time I watch him test with strangers, he ignores the “tester”, refuses to answer and purposefully answers wrong.  Many times, I’ve butted in and told him to give appropriate responses.  Sometimes, I’m asked to leave.  Sometimes, he would stage a meltdown to keep me from leaving.  That was 15 months ago.

And then there was last week.

Last week, the neurologist told us he was going to have one of the Autism Treatment Center’s psychologists come in and assess my son.  So, in walks this psychologist and sits down with a spiral bound book of pictures.  He introduced himself to my son.  My son was busy ignoring this new guy, playing his iPad instead.  I took the iPad and told him he could “work for it” by answering some questions from this person.

The psychologist took over and opened the book.  Little T decided he would answer questions wrong on a selective basis.  After he answered a few obvious questions wrong intentionally, I intervened (my bad), and told my son to answer correctly.  The psychologist then told me it was okay.   The fact that my son intentionally answered wrong was part of the testing.  Is he psychic or something? Because how would he  know whether my son was giving him truthful answers or not?

And so I had to suck it up and watch my son selectively answering incorrectly and correctly as he chose.  It leaves me wondering how he can be accurately “assessed” for his cognitive ability when he is purposefully answering a question incorrectly.  He simply does not get why this conveys an inaccurate picture.  And how can someone who has never met my child before know whether my son is answering the question inaccurately on purpose or not in a 10 minute assessment?

Do you face this problem with your child purposely undermining his or her ability level?  How do you deal with it?  How is it perceived?

Sometimes, I worry that it may translate into the school setting.  At this point, it appears he only does it when he is “under-challenged” and does not know the person to whom he is giving the responses.  I think he enjoys it.

My son is the one who is supposed to be tested, but, in the end, I actually think it is he who is testing the tester…. to his detriment.

Feelin' Defiant...


About solodialogue

I'm a lawyer and the mom of a 6 year old boy with autism. I work part time and spend the rest driving here and there and everywhere for my son's various therapies. Instead of trying cases, I now play Pac-man and watch SpongeBob. I wear old sweaters and jeans and always, always flat shoes to run after my son. Yeah, it's different but I wouldn't change it for anything. The love of my child is the most powerful, beautiful and rewarding aspect of my life.
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8 Responses to Testing the Tester…

  1. Little Miss does EXACTLY the same thing! She totally pulled that crap on Mr. Tony last week and she does it all the time (selectively) with her iPad.

    I don’t worry about it too much because those assessments are put together in order of cognitive ability. In other words, you don’t have the cognitive ability to answer question #5 if you couldn’t answer question #1. So, that’s how the psychologist knows that T is pulling a game on her. Still, I would love to see what she has to say about the assessment and how this behavior figures into T’s therapy plan. Good luck!

  2. Jim W. says:

    Yeah, I often am forced to assume certain things in order to maintain my OWN mental health. Here’s my assumption: A “Typical” child would NOT selectively answer wrong. A “Typical” child would just answer. I always assume that my child’s incorrect answer can be categorized one of two ways. . . 1) she knows better and is answering incorrectly on purpose (data), or 2) she doesn’t know the answer (data). It’s up to the psychologist to figure out which it is.

    I further assume that a psychologist knows that because my child is on the spectrum he/she is familiar with these sorts of evasions/escapes/misdirections. . . and that there’s an understanding that although my child COULD do it. . . her NOT doing it is something that points back at the dx and says. . . yeah, that explains it.

    If nothing else it helps ME feel a little less pissed off/frustrated with the whole process.

  3. Yeah, they don’t like playing our games, so they? I’d say this is their way of sticking it to us. After all, they never asked to be tested, now did they? I couldn’t get Pudding to touch blocks for well over a year, when every single test seemed to require that she built a tower. As for the evaluators, I’m sure they’ve seen it all before. 🙂

  4. Flannery says:

    Yes, it is very frustrating. My son does this helpless thing, especially during homework, and I know it’s because he wants help, or someone to do it for him. I make sure to be rigid about consequences (not giving attention, taking away the toy or object) if he’s not playing it correctly, and give big praise for doing it correctly.

    I’m not sure how much of an impact it’s having, but we’re still trying.

    I know it feels anal, but maybe saying, in a matter-of-fact way, “oh, it looks like you’re bored with that, since you are being silly with it, so I will take it off the Ipad and find something else.

    It’s a long road…many more grey hairs coming our way.

  5. Lizbeth says:

    That’s really interesting. Alex took the other route and tried to get the testers to give him as advanced material as possible. He was smart and he knew it. Back when he was younger he tried, and still does to this day, to outsmart the tester. And in some cases he succeeded. He still mentions how he was smarter than the Psychologist who gave him a test when he entered Kindergarden.

  6. Teresa says:

    In my experience, this “tricky” behavior probably will show up during evaluations or other times when your son doesn’t want to do the task. It makes life challenging and puts the onus on you to get the teacher/evaluator to see past the quirks. It will take lots of patience and hopefully the teacher, who spends time around your son, will learn these tricks and not fall for them. One thing we would do was to film our son doing the “task” and take this information to the evaluator. When Matthew was young I believe he took delight in testing the tester’s patience, purposefully answering with a crazy answer. We can’t always see what our children are thinking…but we can see them thinking… Remember your son is very clever, you have to be more clever.

  7. ElizOF says:

    I can imagine the frustration of not knowing if the answers he says incorrectly are truly reflected on the assessment results. Have you asked him why he does it? Do you think the iPad games set this scenario up? Hang tough! 🙂

  8. Aspie Mom says:

    He’s just bored. The testers are condescending, especially if he doesn’t have speech.
    This is part of the fun when you are getting your kid tested for Special Services and Gifted both at once!
    E-squared kids – twice exceptional.

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