Toddler IQ tests: Should you have your child tested?

Isla McNabb, a 2-year-old from  Kentucky recently became the youngest current member of American Mensa, a society for those with high IQs. She tested in the 99th percentile for the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scales.

Dr. Ed Amend, the psychologist who performed Isla’s test, said it is rare for children under 4 to be tested, but that it is important to foster the abilities for gifted youth.

“A lot of parents underestimate how bright their kid is,” he said. “They acquaint the word giftedness with genius. They think because their kid isn’t doing calculus, they must not be gifted.”

Here’s what to know if you’re considering a test for your child:

Should my toddler be IQ tested?

When considering whether or not a young child should be tested, examine how quickly they are accelerating through developmental milestones.

Amend suggests parents speak with their pediatricians. He encourages parents to pay attention to how quickly they walk, talk and recognize letters. The test measures a variety of skills such as verbal traits, non-verbal traits, processing speed, memory and attention.

Young genius: Kentucky toddler, 2, is now the youngest Mensa member in US

Charles Brown, the director of marketing and communications for Mensa, said to look out for curiosity and children being “sponge like” and to keep in mind there are many types of intelligence, such as being musically gifted.

If your pediatrician agrees your child is accelerating quickly, it may be time to talk to a psychologist to conduct a test. However, many do not accept children under 4 unless there are special circumstances. Isla was denied by several psychologists in Louisville, Kentucky, because of her age, her parents said. Amend explained this is because young children can be so variable and difficult to test. Having a pediatrician recommendation could increase the likelihood of them being accepted by a psychologist.

What is the IQ test like for young children?

If a child is accepted to take an IQ test, they will typically be assessed over multiple days.

To start, the child and doctor will usually have a brief interview. Then, they will go to a room to take the test. In Amend’s office, the parent is permitted to be in the room, but they must sit behind the child to ensure they cannot help with the test.

When the test starts, the child will be presented with an item, which usually involves some sort of puzzle or pattern. They will go through a series of levels with various items to determine their score. 

Although the tests are modified for age, Amend said they are measuring the same skills, just in an adjusted format. 

“A 6-year-old may have to identify differences between apple and orange, while an older child would have to differentiate between freedom and justice,” Amend said.

It usually takes about an hour and a half to two hours to complete. For young children, this may be tiring and require several breaks, or even multiple days to finish.

If I already know my child is smart, what’s the point of getting an IQ score?

When a child is ready to start school, these scores can be used to adjust their learning, Amend said.

“There is a myth that all parents think their children are gifted,” he said. “This can be used as data to show that their kid really is that smart.”

In addition, taking tests can get children into organizations like Mensa. These groups give resources to parents and members as the kids grow older. Gifted children also may have unique struggles compared to others.

Amend said just as people would not expect a tennis prodigy to develop on their own, the same is true for gifted children. He said it is typical for them to need special accommodations.

How much do IQ tests cost?

Costs for testing can vary significantly by the provider and by which test the child takes.

Amend said many psychologists bill by the hour, and this usually takes one to three hours of time. In addition, he said price per hour can be anywhere from $125 to $200, and $250 on the very high end for specialists, like neuroscientists. This means  testing will typically cost between $375 and $600, with a rare few going up to $750.

American Mensa provides a list of IQ tests they accept to admit young people.

Follow Eleanor McCrary on Twitter: @ellie_mccrary