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.
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.