Measure mental illness through IQ levels, says CBSE

Disability activists say many students with mental illness may have high IQ scores

February 20, 2020 10:17 pm | Updated February 21, 2020 03:46 am IST - NEW DELHI

Representational image. File

Representational image. File

A circular issued by the Central Board of Secondary Education on the eve of the Class 10 and 12 board examinations has asked for students with mental illnesses to provide medical certificates using their IQ scores to measure their disability level, in order to avail concessions in the examinations.

Disability activists and psychologists have pointed out that this is an inaccurate way to evaluate mental illness and also does not comply with the guidelines of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016.

“It is archaic to use IQ levels to measure even intellectual disability,” pointed out Vaishnavi Jayakumar, a member of the Disability Rights Alliance who has written to the CBSE asking for the February 14 circular to be corrected. “But many people with mental illness don’t have intellectual disabilities at all. You can have high IQ levels and still have serious psychosocial disabilities,” she added.

“There is a lot of confusion and panic among students and parents, especially as this has come at the last minute before examinations,” said Seema Lal, a Kochi-based psychologist. and co-founder of Together We Can., an advocacy group for parents and children with disabilities. “Clinical depression, personality disorders, specific learning disorders, autism — many of these will not show low IQ score, but children may still require examination support of various kinds,” said Seema Lal, a Kochi-based psychologist. She also noted that emotional and social skills and adaptive behaviour also needed to be taken into account.

When contacted, CBSE Controller of Examinations Sanyam Bhardwaj told The Hindu that the circular had been issued the day before examinations began because the Board had received a number of last minute requests from parents and students claiming learning disabilities, and demanding concessions.

“To avoid misuse of the concessions, we wanted to ensure that they give us certificates with the specific levels of disabilities, as stipulated by the Gazette notification issued by the Social Justice Ministry. Otherwise, there is a rush of people coming last minute with incomplete certificates claiming their child has dyslexia and demanding extra time,” said Dr. Bhardwaj. Regarding the use of IQ scores to evaluate mental illness, he admitted that the CBSE circular quoted only partially and selectively from the notified guidelines for disability evaluation, and clarified that the CBSE would be subject to the full guidelines.

The guidelines define mental illness as “a substantial disorder of thinking, mood, perception, orientation or memory that grossly impairs judgment, behaviour, capacity to recognise reality or ability to meet the ordinary demands of life, but does not include retardation which is a condition of arrested or incomplete development of mind of a person, specially characterised by subnormality of intelligence.”

It recommends clinical assessment as well as the administration of the Indian Disability Evaluation and Assessment Scale (IDEAS) to evaluate the disability. Only in cases where there is suspicion of intellectual deficits, standardised IQ tests may be administered, says the Act’s guidelines.

“Erroneously... leaving out the IDEAS element would negate the availability of reasonable accommodation to candidates living with psychosocial disability,” Ms. Jayakumar wrote in her letter to the CBSE.

Although Dr. Bhardwaj referred to students with dyslexia and other learning disorders, the CBSE circular only refers to intellectual disabilities and mental illnesses, leading to confusion among those with specific learning disorders.

Ashi Sachin, mother of a 15-year old with dysgraphia, says the circular has led to her son’s CBSE school demanding specific certification. “He has been diagnosed with dysgraphia and needs extra time to write the examination, as well as concessions with regards to internal marking for class notes and record books. I have the psychologist’s report, but now the school is not sure if they can give the concessions without a certificate on the specific level of disability,” says Ms. Sachin, who did not wish to name her son or his school. “His IQ score fluctuates around 100, but he still needs help,” she added, noting that several CBSE principals planned to raise the issue with the Board.

“There are issues with quantifying the level of disability in the case of learning disorders, and there is a problem with conflating such disorders with intellectual disability and mental illness. We are also writing to the CBSE about the problem,” said Muralidharan Vishwanath, general secretary of the National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled.

0 / 0
Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.