Background to my interest in teaching children with autism

PSYCHOTHERAPY BEYOND THE FRINGE, continued
An Unresponsive Responsiveness
In assessment procedures, it is important that the stimulus conditions are applied in a standard fashion, and that responses are recorded in a standard way. If these conditions are met, outside of the relatively narrow limits of measurement error, the major source of assessment error is likely to derive from errors in the communication process.
The Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) was administered on a routine basis to Una while she was incarcerated in a correctional institution. There had been no indication from the correctional staff of any problems identified in this woman, nor did she appear to Felicity, during a brief interview, to manifest any major psychosocial adjustment difficulties. However, the MMPI profile suggested very considerable and intense psychopathology. She exhibited extreme scores on the clinical scales, with a jagged pattern of wide variations. What was the matter with the test or with Una?
At first glance one might have thought that she was severely disturbed. However, the L and F scores (‘validity’ scales) were also extremely high, and she was asked whether she had any difficulty in understanding any of the questions. Una claimed to have had no trouble understanding the questions, and said that she had responded to the items with care and honesty.
A few of her responses were reviewed with her. She now gave the opposite responses to the responses given originally. Felicity was about to infer the presence of an extreme bi polar affective disorder, when the inmate, as if sensing something was wrong, said: “You asked for Xs on the answer sheet, so I put Xs to indicate the wrong answers, as you asked.” It took a full twenty seconds for the import of this cognitively dissonant item of intelligence to sink into Felicity’s slow brain. He then arranged for the MMPI to be keyed in once more, this time entering the blank answer box as the response. The resulting profile was quite satisfactory, and seemed to reflect Una’s personality reasonably accurately. For Una an ‘X’ could only mean the wrong answer, and she was communicating, with the requested ‘X’ response, the response pole which did not apply to her.

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