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Formally referred to as "intellectual quotient" tests, IQ tests come in many forms. They can help diagnose intellectual disabilities or measure someone’s intellectual potential. If you’re considering IQ testing, your doctor should be your first point of contact.
French psychologist Alfred Binet created the first intelligence test in the early 1900s. However, modern IQ testing in the United States stems from the work of Henry Herbert Goddard. Goddard was a psychologist who earned his doctorate in psychology from Clark University in 1899. He translated the Binet test from French to English. This test was used to test basic intellectual functions in U.S. school children and to support mental health diagnoses.
Goddard remains a controversial figure in the history of psychology. This is due to his argument that adults with low IQs shouldn’t procreate. Thankfully, society has largely moved on from such viewpoints. Today, there are numerous IQ tests that are used for different purposes, but most are used to help diagnose learning disabilities.
Since Goddard’s controversial Binet tests, psychologists have worked to develop numerous other tests. Most are intended for elementary school-aged children, but some may be used for adults.
The most common types of IQ tests are:
According to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, 85 percent of intellectually disabled children receive IQ scores between 55 and 70. A score of 100 is considered average.
A high IQ score, over 100, is typically associated with high intelligence. Extreme intelligence is 130 or above. Still, these outcomes are stereotypical. A high score usually means the person has a lot of potential, not that they’re particularly "smart."
Someone who scores below 100 is considered to have "below average" intelligence. Extremely low scores, below 70, are usually a cause for concern. They may indicate an underlying learning disability.
An IQ test may be the first step in diagnosing intellectual issues. If your child has a particularly low score, their doctor may also order:
Prenatal screenings may help detect potential intellectual disabilities before babies are born. This is especially the case for mothers who are 35 or older, or those who have used drugs or alcohol during pregnancy. If potential issues are detected at this time, your pediatrician may follow up with an IQ test in early childhood.
IQ scores are just one piece of the puzzle. These tests still remain inaccessible to many families. Not all public schools use them. Some families may not have access to a doctor or psychologist who can administer the test. This can lead to missed opportunities for crucial testing — especially during a child’s early years when treatment is vital.
Online IQ tests are available, but you shouldn’t rely on them for a medical diagnosis. If you suspect an intellectual disability in a loved one, don’t wait for your doctor to offer a test. Seek out your options for early testing.
IQ testing is just one way to measure someone’s intelligence. When diagnosing an intellectual disability, your doctor will rely on additional tests and observations. IQ tests should certainly not be discounted, but it’s important not to rely on them as the sole measure of intelligence.
Written by: Kristeen Cherney
Medically reviewed on: Jan 29, 2016: Timothy J. Legg PhD, PMHNP-BC
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