New Intelligence Test Identifies Children With Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Study Shows

November 25, 1997

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- A newly released intelligence test can help diagnose Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in children, recent research suggests.

The finding is important because other intelligence tests can’t effectively detect ADHD -- even though they are sometimes used for that purpose, said Jack A. Naglieri, co-author of the study and a professor of school psychology at Ohio State University.

The new intelligence test, published this year by Riverside Publishing, is called the Cognitive Assessment System (CAS). Naglieri developed CAS with J.P. Das of the University of Alberta.

Results showed that children with ADHD scored significantly lower than average on CAS in a measurement of planning ability --the ability to determine, select and use a strategy to efficiently solve a problem.

“Children with ADHD have a problem with self-regulation and inhibiting their behavior,” Naglieri said. “And that’s what planning is -- the ability to control behavior. So it’s not surprising that the planning scale on CAS is effective in identifying ADHD.”

The study also showed that children with ADHD scored slightly lower than average on measurements of attention, which is consistent with attention defect hyperactivity disorder.

The study, presented recently at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association, involved administering CAS to 60 children aged 6 to 13 who met psychiatric criteria for ADHD. None of the children had other conditions that may produce similar symptoms to ADHD, such as conduct or anxiety disorders.

ADHD occurs in about 3 to 5 percent of school-aged children. It is usually identified through structured interviews and behavior rating scales. However, the Wechsler intelligence test has also been used to identify ADHD, although evidence for its effectiveness has not been found.

“Most intelligence tests are not designed to diagnose ADHD, but some people use them incorrectly for that purpose,” said Anthony Paolitto, co-author of the study and visiting scholar at Ohio State. “The primary purpose of CAS is not only to diagnose ADHD, but, unlike other tests, there are valid scientific reasons to use it that way.”

The strength of CAS is that it can separate children with ADHD from children who have other problems, such as learning disabilities or low ability in general, according to Naglieri.

“Many experts believe there are too many children being diagnosed with ADHD,” he said. “Part of the problem is that there haven’t been good instruments to separate ADHD from other kinds of cognitive disorders. The Cognitive Assessment System shows the deficits in planning and attention that are the true hallmarks of ADHD.”

If a child is having behavior problems, but doesn’t show deficits in the planning and attention scales of CAS, then the problem probably isn’t ADHD, Naglieri said.

CAS is based on a theory of intelligence developed by Naglieri and Das called Planning, Attention, Simultaneous, Successive (PASS). The PASS theory argues that intelligence is based on the ability to plan, pay attention, integrate and relate information, and perform actions in a specific order.

“Traditional intelligence tests don’t measure cognitive processes such as planning and attention, but the CAS does,” Naglieri said. “That’s why CAS is able to do things like diagnose ADHD.”

Because of the unique features of CAS, it can also be used to help children improve classroom performance, Naglieri said.

For example, Naglieri was involved in an intervention study that increased the math computation performance of learning disabled students up to 80 percent. Teachers accomplished this through instruction that helped the students improve planning skills.

“Students who do poorly at math often don’t make use of effective problem solving strategies,” he said “We can help students do better at math by giving them instruction on how to be more planful.”

Naglieri conducted the study with Suzanne Gottling, formerly of The Marburn Academy in Columbus. Their results were published in a recent issue of the Journal of Learning Disabilities.

The study involved 12 students aged 9 to 12 who attended a school that specializes in the treatment of students with significant learning problems.

The students were all administered the CAS. Many of the students were below average on the planning scale of the CAS. And because planning is especially important for mathematics, the researchers worked with teachers to help students improve their planning skills. Teachers worked with students for half-hour blocks of time either two or three times a week over a period of eight weeks.

During the sessions, the students worked on subtraction and multiplication work sheets. The work sheets were graded and the teacher would then talk about the results with the students.

“Teachers encouraged the children to determine how they completed their work sheets and to explain which methods worked well and which worked poorly,” Naglieri said. “The children would start saying things like ‘I have to remember to keep the columns straight’ and ‘I have to remember to borrow.’”

The results showed that students who had the lowest scores on planning in the CAS also improved the most as a result of the intervention in the class.

Students who were lowest in planning on the CAS improved their math scores an average of 80 percent; those whose were highest in planning also improved their math skills, but only 42 percent. “We improved math scores not by teaching math, but by teaching the cognitive skills necessary to do math,” Naglieri said. These results suggest that CAS can be used to design academic programs that meet the cognitive needs of students, Naglieri said. “We need to match instruction to the cognitive strength or weaknesses of students. If a student is weak in planning, then we should design program that emphasizes that skill.”

Ohio State University

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