We got the written report from Bud's day-long assessment at the developmental clinic. Honestly, I have no right to be disappointed. They didn't promise anything more than they delivered and, in fact, they tried to warn me about the limitations of their assessment. But I heard "interdisciplinary," and I made assumptions: I assumed that each specialist would gather information in his or her own area of expertise, and I thought they'd drop it all together into a pot and look for what bubbled up, watching closely for the subtleties in the aromas, for the ways that the flavors mixed together, and then try to capture in words the unique delicacy that emerged.
My assumptions were only half right. Each specialist gathered information from his or her own area of expertise. Then they put each bit of information in a tidy little pile on a plate, spacing the piles out so that the flavors complemented each other but never really mingled together. And then they wrote a report that described each item on the plate, clearly and accurately, in black-and-white terms.
It's the black-and-white that I find most disheartening, I think. I'm not typically a fan of black-and-white. I prefer greys - and even then, I want to know more about them: are they more charcoal, or more slate? Are they a smokey grey, or more opaque? But there are few greys in this report. Instead, the report is a series of results from standardized assessment tools. It lists scores and averages and percentiles and standard deviations that, ultimately, have no real-life meaning or relevance to me. The end result is a stack of pages that reflect the testing process, but that do not seem to reflect much of my son.
In fact, I find myself getting defensive as I read the lists of percentiles. Part of it, I know, is simply the reaction of a mom who refuses to acknowledge that her son is anything less than "best" ("What do you mean my son won't be the starting pitcher for every little league game this season?") Beyond that, though, I take issue with the assumption that these tests are useful as a measure of Bud's ability, of Bud's performance, of Bud's intelligence.
Without question, these scores and percentiles are an accurate measure of Bud's ability to take these tests. But I would submit that these tests are not designed with Bud's unique ability in mind.
I was talking about it recently to a friend, who asked, "But didn't they use versions of the tests that weren't language-based? Didn't they assess nonverbal intelligence?"
Yes, yes. Of course they did. But they assessed nonverbal neurotypical intelligence. It seems to me that the only thing they confirm is that Bud is not neurotypical. They confirm that he's autistic.
And we already knew that.
My hunch is that if we really want to assess how Bud thinks - how well and how differently he thinks - then we have to cast aside our preconceived ideas about the ways we measure intelligence. We need to do more than try to measure the same things in different ways. We need to determine how to measure different things entirely.
We need to start working in a whole new paradigm.
Interestingly enough, it was a Gray who started me thinking about paradigms. I recently attended a presentation by Carol Gray, the originator of Social Stories (TM), in which she talked about the idea of paradigm shifts. She quoted Joel Barker from The Business of Discovering the Future: a "paradigm is a set of rules and regulations (written or unwritten) that does two things: 1) it establishes or defines boundaries; and 2) it tells you how to behave inside the boundaries in order to be successful."
Gray contends that if you're not operating within the correct paradigm, then it doesn't matter how hard or how efficiently you're working. Even the best made, most detailed map of New York City, she says, won't help you find your way around Chicago.
And that's just how I feel about much of the testing that was part of Bud's evaluation. It tested his ability to navigate a city he'd never visited. It neglected to ask him questions about his own hometown.
And, in retrospect, I can see that they told me that this might be coming. They cautioned that I might be disappointed. They told it to me in black-and-white.
But I was listening in grey.