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What IQ Tests Can’t Tell You About My Daughter With a Disability


My computer rang with the familiar ding of new mail. It was the report from the neuropsychologist, a specialist in testing intelligence and academic performance, on my daughter. No stranger to these types of reports, I opened the file cautiously.  It is never an easy task to focus on all that one’s child cannot do. Unfortunately, this is a common exercise for the parents of children with developmental delays. Nevertheless, her scores shook me, and I feared for her future. Based upon the numbers alone, the outlook for her future education and employment seemed nonexistent.

A few days later, I had to tell her sternly, “Hurry up!” during an epically slow morning routine performance. She looked at me, near tears, and said, “Mama, please don’t call me dumb.” It was as if the floor fell from under me as my stomach dropped like the rapid descent of a roller coaster. I inhaled sharply and said, “I would never call you dumb, sweetheart, you aren’t dumb.” And she isn’t. No test score could ever change that, because tests like an Intelligence Quotient or IQ test, are but a snapshot in time and measure only a very narrow aspect of a human being. At that moment, I realized the report was not a reason to fear for her future, because she is so much more than one report could ever capture.

These are the things an IQ test can’t measure:

Her joy. I have yet to meet a person as joyful as my daughter.  Her happiness radiates from her like a beacon of light inviting you to join her in her bliss. For a child who has struggled so much in this world, she emanates warmth and a fully embodied glee that no test could measure.

Her sweetness. She is replete with innocence. It colors all she looks at with a warm rosy hue.  She is kind and generous. Her giggle is next to none.  She finds something to love about anyone she meets. It is this happiness that draws people to her. People want to help her and stand by her side because her contentment is contagious. No test could ever tell you that. It is measured by her smile, her warmth and the number of people who step up to move along in this journey with her.

Her sense of humor. My kid is funny. Her goofy, slapstick ways can bring a smile to my face even on the darkest of days.

Her perseverance. Since birth, the deck has been stacked against her. Nevertheless, she persists.  When the tests ask, when did she walk, when did she talk etc., they do not ask about the sheer tenacity it took for my girl to take those first tentative steps at nearly 3 years old.

Her problem-solving abilities. If there is something in the house she is not supposed to get (like the Halloween candy), that girl is going to find a way. She will take any measure necessary, including climbing on precariously stacked items to get what she wants. She uses the same astute problem solving to navigate her way through a world that isn’t exactly built for her.

Her creativity. Our girl is prolific with arts and crafts. She is like a MacGyver. Give her pipe cleaners, buttons, paint and pom-poms and she will have a whole village of assorted animals constructed in no time.

Her fantastic memory. There is nothing that my daughter forgets.  She learns huge amounts of information from sheer memorization.  She once told us if we swallowed gum too often it would make a bezoar in our stomachs. Who knew? It’s a real thing. A bezoar is a big mess of indigestible stuff that gets stuck in your digestive tract. She knew because she heard it once and memorized it.

These may seem like small things, but they are what give me the most hope for her future. The truth is that she needs more help than the average person to navigate this world. It is also true that she has something magnetic about her that draws people to her to help — and that magnetism isn’t going anywhere. The IQ test is one tool, one measure at a moment in time. It provides information about certain strengths and weaknesses, and places that need intervention. It doesn’t define her.  What defines her is so much greater than a score on a test.

Getty image by Standret.