Psychological Testing Studies

Problems Regarding Psychological Testing

One of the greatest challenges in the deafness and mental health field is the application of psychological testing tools and methods in the cross-language, cross-cultural setting. The risk of bias in test data and evaluation methods is very great. Fund of information and literacy limitations in the deaf, hard-of-hearing, and deafblind population are very significant, as are sources of bias that may arise from the different sensory and, often, sociocultural experiences this consumer population presents in contrast to hearing people. Rosen (1967) aptly demonstrated how misleading psychological data could be when personality tests designed for hearing persons are administered to deaf individuals. While American Sign Language (ASL) since has been recognized as a natural language distinct from English, many hearing professionals unfamiliar with this research assume that ASL is some form of manually coded English. Assuming that ASL is English-based, or wrongly assuming that deaf individuals are as literate in English as hearing people still leads many psychologists toward inappropriate reliance on English-based measures in cognitive, personality, and neuropsychological assessment. Many authors, in particular Dr. Pollard, have identified the need for great caution in test use with the deaf population, as there is a long history of misuse of psychological test data with deaf adults (Brauer, Braden, Pollard, & Hardy-Braz, 1999; Lane, 1999; Pollard, 1993, 1998; Ziezulia, 1982).

The approach used in the psychological testing studies proposed herein is to develop measures "from scratch" that are appropriate for deaf individuals rather than adapting or translating existing psychological tests. Psychometrically sound, clinically useful tests developed and administered in ASL are desperately needed to fill the void of assessment tools relevant to the evaluation of cognitive and psychological functions in persons who are deaf.

Our first study involves the completion of two tests of "verbal" (that is, sign language-mediated) learning and memory in deaf adults which are already well into development. These tests were conceived and constructed exclusively for sign language users. Valid tests of verbal learning and memory in sign language users can greatly aid in the assessment of IQ, learning disabilities, Alzheimer's disease and other dementias, and many other important psychological constructs and disorders.

Our second testing study involves the development of a psychosis symptom rating scale for use with deaf, hard-of-hearing and deafblind subjects. Since psychosis often manifests in hearing people through disruption of sensory and linguistic functioning, it follows that the vastly different sensory and language experiences and characteristics of deaf versus. hearing people will lead to complications and differences in the detection and measurement of psychotic symptomatology between these two populations. Additionally complicating this issue is the valid presumption that virtually all healthy hearing people are conversant or better in their preferred language and, therefore, that disruptions of language fluency are ipso facto evidence of neurological or psychiatric impairment. The same presumption is not valid for the deaf population, since language dysfluency frequently results from insufficient exposure to accessible language (oral or sign). Accordingly, there is a significant proportion of the deaf population that manifests language dysfluency but may have no underlying neurologic or psychiatric pathology. Two types of misdiagnosis can result from these complications and clinical knowledge gaps—concluding that psychosis is present when it is not, and failing to detect psychosis when it is present - and both happen commonly with the deaf, hard-of-hearing and deafblind clinical population (Pollard, 1998a), often with harmful consequences for consumers. Yet, there are no valid measures of psychosis useful with deaf subjects. Neither the use of traditional psychological tests nor ASL translations of psychological tests have yet been shown to be effective for this purpose (Brauer, et al., 1999; Leigh & Pollard, in press). The goal of this second testing study is to develop, pilot, and refine a rating scale that is not only reliable and valid in documenting the nature and measuring the severity of psychotic symptomatology in deaf individuals, but also robust in light of the prevalence of psychotic and non-psychotic yet dysfluent deaf individuals in the clinical population. The scale will not be a "test," where the deaf subject fills out a form or responds to written or signed questions or items. Nor will this be a translation of an existing test or tool, as translations typically are useful only for deaf subjects with ASL fluency which is commonly lacking in the deaf clinical population. The design of this scale will be similar to that of the Hare Psychopathy Checklist Revised (PCL-R; Hare, 1991), a rating scale where the psychological construct of interest (in this case, psychopathy rather than psychosis) is measured through evidence gathered from interviews and records. Details of the scale's proposed construction, pilot testing, and experimental testing are provided herein.

Our final testing project also addresses "model psychological testing" via the development of a psychological testing casebook. Dr. Pollard possesses many hundreds of testing case files and proposes a research project investigating the referral questions or problems, the methods, the data, and the findings in those cases and, subsequently, writing a textbook/casebook for clinicians and psychology students that will teach and illustrate best practices in psychological testing with deaf adults.

Psychological Testing Projects

Dr. Pollard, the principal investigator, has been a leading authority in the field of psychological testing of deaf individuals for nearly two decades. He has published and lectured widely on this subject, personally conducted many hundreds of psychological testing cases involving a wide variety of deaf, hard-of-hearing and deafblind consumers, including many from ethnic and language minority groups, founded a psychological testing service at URMC, trained dozens of psychology interns in testing methodology, and frequently serves as an expert witness in cases involving psychological testing and assessment with the deaf population. Dr. Pollard will serve as project leader for three studies involving psychological testing.

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