Cognitive assessment

In February this year  (2018) my IQ was tested using  the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale. I had asked to be assessed because I wanted to have an up to date profile of my strengths and weaknesses. I had previously been assessed using a battery of different tests between the age of 9 and 11, and the results of these assessments had highlighted a significant discrepancy between my verbal (99-111, high average) and non verbal (58-74),  ability.

I enjoyed taking part in the adult IQ test, and eagerly awaited the results, which I received in April, 2018. I was expecting that there would still be some discrepancy between the scales, but I was taken aback by the magnitude of the discrepancy, which was even greater than when I was a kid. My verbal IQ had shot up to 138, with a range from 131 to as high as 142, but my non verbal IQ had only slightly increased, with a total score of 69 and a range from 66-79, which suggests an extremely low average range of intellectual functioning. Therefore, the report highlighted that my verbal abilities ”are much better developed than…perceptual reasoning, working memory and processing speed abilities”. Working memory is in the borderline range of intellectual functioning, while processing speed is in the extremely low range of intellectual functioning.  Verbal abilities, by contrast, are in the very superior range of intellectual ability and are above those of 99% of my peers.

Interestingly, my strongest result in the non verbal test was block design, which was my weakest score when I was a kid. But in general the scores were still very low, and the report explains that this means I will ”find it difficult to organise visual information so that it is meaningful”, and will have ”difficulty with information presented in the form of shapes or patterns for example, complex diagrams… In addition it may result in difficulty ”reading” facial expressions”.

The report says that working memory refers to the ”ability to sustain attention, concentrate and exert mental control”, and that I performed better than 6% per cent of my peers, meaning that this is an area I struggle with. The working memory test involved the processing of numbers, and due to a mathematical learning difficulty I have always struggled in this area, which might partly explain why the score is so low. The report says that my scores in this area show that the processing of complex information ”may be more time consuming and more mentally tiring” for me, and that I might ”make more frequent errors on a variety of tasks and will need more time and repetition”. Processing speed is in the extremely low range of intellectual functioning, and this hinders my ability to ”process simple or routine visual material without making errors”. This explains why I often have to re-read information several times to make sense of it, and that I ”need more time to have instructions or new information explained”.

I have always found it hard to make sense of my significantly polarised strengths and weaknesses. On the one hand, my dad often called me ”clever” when I was very little because I could read so well, and because I could recite poems by Keats and other classical poets off by heart. Age 4 I would sing Keat’s ”The ode to Autumn” in the reading corner at school, and I could read aloud incredibly fast while the other kids were still learning how to put sentences together. Yet I could not recite the alphabet, struggled to understand the plot of what I was reading, had no number sense, and struggled with some motor tasks.  Despite the fact that I could read books 5 years ahead of my chronological age, I was kept back on level 1 because of my very poor comprehension. I was always put in the ”slow learner” group at school, and needed a lot of support from teaching assistants. Increasingly I felt not very competent, and was given the label ”special needs”, which carries a lot of stigma.

I always needed a lot of support from my parents to keep me organised and to complete homework. I felt stupid and non academic compared to the ”bright” and academic achievers in my year, who got all the praise from the teachers, and also had lots of friends. In contrast I was often alone, and only made my first peer group friend when I was 9. This girl was also in the slow stream and her mum knew my mum, and her brother was in my brother’s year, so play dates were often arranged. The times when I was friends with her were the best days of my life, but we went our separate ways at secondary school, and by this point I was both completely friendless and completely reliant on my parents to stay afloat at school.

The cognitive assessment has shown what I knew but could not fully accept: I do have a store of high intelligence. It was hard for me to feel intelligent growing up because of my severe non verbal processing disability. To be incredibly able on the one hand but very disabled on the other is confusing at best and soul destroying at worst. Because of my high verbal IQ, I managed to compensate to some extent as a teenager, and I passed all my GCSE’s apart from maths and art (failed art because I did not understand the coursework). I would not have done so well, though, were it not for my parent’s coaching and scripting of what I should write in essays, but I also drew on my excellent long term rote memory for exams.

I became much more academically able and independent during my A levels, and only got extensive support with English from my dad, who was an English teacher. No one had expected me to do A levels, let alone go on to study history at my local university, where I graduated with an upper 2:1. I received no academic support at all during my degree, but my mum continued to help me with organisation, by keeping all my files neat and tidy. Academically I am a very late developer, but can now write good essays, and understand complex and abstract arguments.

Having such an uneven cognitive profile means that, although I can use long words and have a good understanding of complex topics, I struggle to multi-task, prioritise my work load, and break tasks down, so I often feel overloaded with information. On a practical level, I can’t work because of my difficulty processing non verbal information, and I rely on a lot of support from my support workers and dad in order to function. Yet I can do well in areas that I’m interested in, such as cooking at my own pace in my own kitchen, and I can cope so long as the task is familiar and routine. It can be frustrating that I can’t always put my high verbal intellect to use, but I can still write my blogs, produce videos, and now again deliver talks, which give my life meaning and which I really enjoy. There is a neurological reason for my difficulties, and hopefully the results of this assessment can be used to show people that just because I can appear so able, it does not mean that I can function well on what might appear to be simple tasks. I am a whole mixture of extreme strengths and extreme weaknesses, but I will try and focus on my strengths.

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