Discrepancy Between Verbal and Non-verbal Intelligence

Updated on September 24, 2013
B.W. asks from Seattle, WA
9 answers

I am having a hard time finding an answer to this question. If there is a large discrepancy between verbal and non-verbal IQ scores, is it appropriate to diagnose borderline intelligence, even if the verbal IQ is average or above-average? Or is this more indicative of a learning disability? In other words, if a person's "composite" score was lower than expected because his/her non-verbal score brought it down, can the composite score be considered accurate?

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answers from Pittsburgh on

You need to talk with whoever administered the test. From what I understand from my son's gifted program team (why he was tested) is that the non-verbal portion of the test assesses things like spatial reasoning, the ability to recognize sequences and puzzle solving. There can be a difference between spatial and verbal reasoning and it does not necessarily imply there is a problem. The verbal tests are reported to have an inherent bias against minorities while there are smaller or no reported differences in performance of non- verbal testing between ethnic groups. However gifted girls tend to be highly verbal and may not be identified if only non-verbal testing is done. So - it appears they both are important.

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answers from Rochester on

I used to teach gifted services and we used a test (NOT an intelligence test) that identified students who were exceptional in verbal skills (language) and/or nonverbal (math/science). It was not unusual for students to qualify for gifted services in just one of the two areas. Most people are stronger in one area. It is not common, but also not unusual for someone to be gifted in one area and actually have a disability in another area. Or to have a learning disability in one area like reading but be average or above average in math. Someone with Autism may not be able to communicate verbally but may be able to do complex math.

Who administered the test? Was it an IQ test or an ability test? There is a big difference between the two. Schools (at least in our area) don't usually use IQ tests.

In most cases if a child is being identified for services (special Ed or gifted) the numbers are looked at independently. The composite score might be looked at in some cases. For example our district has a Highly Gifted school. To qualify for admittance students must have a minimum verbal score, a minimum nonverbal score, and a minimum composite score.

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answers from Miami on

I'd get a speech pathologist to answer this question after an evaluation, to be honest. Get someone with a lot of experience.

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answers from Portland on

Nonverbal intelligence is unrelated to the use of words/language. I don't know how they measure it but I suggest that, because the tests measure two different aspects of intelligence that the combined score is a more accurate measure of intelligence than just one or the other score.

Dana K explained nonverbal skills well. I read that we can imrove our nonverbal skills thru practice. I suggest that knowing that score is helpful.

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answers from Medford on

In most cases this would be more indicative of a learning disability, but it would depend on how large of a discrepancy, and how far below average the non-verbal intelligence scores where. It would also be important to take other measures into account that are indicative of functional performance (i.e. functional adaptive skills). A composite score can be accurate with some level of discrepancy, but again it depends how much of a difference exists between the two scores.



answers from Oklahoma City on

This is definitely an interesting question. I'd say that a deaf or mute person can be tested and their lack or inability to hear or speak would not have any influence over their results. BUT it would greatly depend on the tester and their method of testing this person....

To say this a different way. An eye doc can do a pretty accurate eye exam for glasses on a non-reading child if that child knows what a picture of something is. Instead of asking that child to say what letter they are able to see they ask them to tell them what the pictures are. So they see a star instead of an "A" or "B".

This eye doc has found a way to accurately gauge this non-reading child's vision, a way around something they can't do. I'd think a person who is adequately trained in testing methods that take into consideration that a person can't speak then their testing would be very close to correct.

I'd want to specifically know their qualifications and how they gauge that person's intelligence.

For instance, the age of the child plays a huge part in this method. If the child isn't able to say "Dog" when the person testing/evaluating asks them to name the animal in the picture and they don't allow them to point to the word or some other means to signify they even heard the question then they don't have an accurate method.

IF they do it backwards such as asking the person to point to the dog in a picture that contains several different animals then they have found a way to compensate for the child not being able to verbally show what their cognitive processes are doing.



answers from Detroit on

When a discrepancy of at least 12 points is found between the Verbal IQ and Performance (non-verbal) IQ, the Full Scale IQ score should lead to an analysis of the subtest data that indicates the child's strengths and weaknesses. Also it should be remembered that the younger the child's age, the more variability in subtest scores is considered within the normal range.

However, on the whole, I would say that a significant discrepancy, a disability should be considered (learning disability, Autism Spectrum Disorder)



answers from Boston on

I would say that the short answer is yes, but you should ask the team who did the testing. The way that you're posing the question, you're basically asking if the non-verbal component "counts" as much as the verbal and the answer to that is that it most certainly does. I'm assuming that you're talking about a WISC test? The areas tested cover all of the skills needed for a person to process information and apply it and learn both within school and without. The verbal vs. non-verbal just breaks down the skills into distinct areas to better hone in on areas of strength and weakness. A large gap in these scores usually indicates a learning disability. A non-verbal learning disability requires a lot of intervention and can affect not only school performance, but motor skills, social skills and behavior.

Definitely ask whoever did the evaluation to discuss further with you, but I think at the end of the day as long as the testing qualifies him for the service he needs, focus on the interventions and goals and not on the labels.


answers from St. Louis on

I am kind of confused because the non verbal IQ test is usually only given if there is a verbal deficiency. I feel like someone is using the term differently. See if given a verbal and non verbal the non verbal should be higher, not the other way around since they are supposed to be testing the same thing.

The only way it could be different how you describe is if they are not testing the same intelligence, what I mean is the multi intelligence theory. Which isn't a theory, everyone excels in different areas, lacks in others. Still that wouldn't indicate a learning disability but a learning style.

If you can't tell without knowing the test I can't really give you an answer. Probably best to ask the test administrator.

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