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ADHD: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

Assessment Instruments: Memory and Other Common Tests

Margaret V. Austin, Ph.D.

Memory tests are used to measure both short and long-term memory skills. They also evaluate specific aspects of memory such as:

1. visual and auditory memory: memory for things that you see and heard;
2. delayed memory: memory across time;
3. distractibility: the ability to concentrate on things to be remembered; and,
4. retrieval from memory.

Individuals with ADHD tend to perform best in areas that do not require sustained focus or concentration. The person's pattern of responses can be very useful in identifying strengths and weaknesses. This identification helps to determine the types of interventions that will improve weaknesses.

California Verbal Learning Test

The California Verbal Learning Test-Children's Version (CVLT-C) is designed for children 5 to 16-years-old. It assesses the methods they use to learn and recall verbal material. The CVLT-C can help diagnose and treat memory impairments. The test measures levels of total recall and recognition (i.e., remembering whether you heard a word previously); rate of learning verbal material; strategies employed to remember material; serial-position effects (i.e., whether someone tends to remember words that come first or last in a list); consistency; degree of vulnerability to interference (i.e., can the person screen out irrelevant material); as well as short-term and long-term retention (Delis, Kaplan, Kramer, & Ober, 2000).

Other Common Tests

Many tests are commonly used in ADHD assessments. Evaluators have preferences about which ones to use. The choice is influenced by age of the child, and characteristics unique to each child (e.g., temperament). Links to information about these assessment tools can be found in the Resource List.

Kagan Matching Familiar Figures Test (MFFT)

The Matching Familiar Figures Test is used to measure someone's tendency toward reflection versus impulsivity when solving problems. Reflection is the ability to consider alternative options when faced with a complex decision. This approach typically results in a correct or successful course of action. In contrast, impulsivity is choosing quickly without weighing options or consequences. Impulsivity often results in errors and is a poor problem-solving style. Each item on the MFFT consists of a picture of a common object and six other similar pictures. Only one picture is identical to the original. Five of the pictures differ slightly from the original. The subject is asked to choose the picture that identically matches the original.

Tests of Executive Functioning

Executive functioning refers to how well the brain carries out higher-order functions. This includes: problem-solving abilities (i.e., reasoning, planning, and organization); flexibility in thinking; and, the ability to integrate feedback from others. These abilities are primarily associated with the brain's frontal lobe. Tests that evaluate executive functioning attempt to determine the child's ability to handle tasks involving higher-order cognitive abilities.

Wisconsin Card Sort Test (WCST)

The Wisconsin Card Sort Test is an objective neuropsychological test. It is used to assess frontal lobe functions including: visual skills and working memory. Working memory refers to the ability to hold information in your mind while making a decision about it. The WCST takes about 20 minutes to complete. Four cards are initially presented to the subject with the instruction that there is a strategy to sorting the cards (e.g., sort by color). The test-taker must figure out what sorting strategy to use. Across the test, different sorting strategies will be needed. The test-taker must adapt to these changes. Individuals with frontal lobe damage often make perseverative errors. In other words, they continue to sort cards using the same strategy that worked before, even though the new set of cards requires a different method.


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