Susan's Blog

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

From ThAutcast: Autism & IQ

I often like the stuff that Landon Bryce does at ThAutcast, and this post feels as if it comes directly from my own head (although because there are statistics and numbers, those who know me understand that it never could). I tell people all the time that although Nat “tests” mentally retarded, intellectually disabled, call it what you will, he is clearly much more highly functioning than his scores show. I have witnessed him struggling to take those damned tests, I have seen that he knows that answer, but I also know that he is focusing on the part that interests him, not the tester! I would always say to the doctor administering the test, “Oh my God, he knows that! He just did that yesterday! You’re just asking it wrong! He thinks you’re asking about what the objects are, not which ones are missing!  GODDAMMIT!”

But why should it matter? But it does. That score made me despair once, so long ago, back when I believed what indifferent, ignorant “experts” told me about Nat. And yet — this is the test that determines whether your child will get residential funding support as an adult. A test Nat took when he was — what, 11? 15? Okay, well, the good news is, Nat tests mentally retarded! The bad news is, Nat tests mentally retarded! In the end, I see a man who has gone way beyond any numerical expectations ever placed on him. Two part-time jobs sharing a job coach with two other young men. Living in a new place with a smile on his face, within four months of entering autism adulthood rat race!

(I know, I repeat those facts all the time, but come on, let the Mama brag!)

Also, we see in these statistics that autistics are not all geniuses, with magical skills! With numbers like that, what do we find? Oh, I see, kind of a spectrum of abilities!  What do ya know?

Anyway, bravo, Landon! I am pasting in the entire post just in case people don’t feel like clicking on a link. But you should subscribe to ThAutcast; it will give you a perspective that will open your eyes. You won’t always like it, but you’ll always find it compelling:


Autism and IQ

Submitted by Landon Bryce on Mon, 04/02/2012 – 13:39

Published in


Here is what the new Centers for Disease Control report says about autism and intellectual ability:

Data on intellectual ability are reported for the seven sites having information available for at least 70% of children who met the ASD case definition (Figure 2). When data from these seven sites were combined, 38% of children with ASDs were classified in the range of intellectual disability (i.e., IQ ?70 or an examiner’s statement of intellectual disability), 24% in the borderline range (IQ 71–85), and 38% had IQ scores >85 or an examiner’s statement of average or above-average intellectual ability. The proportion of children classified in the range of intellectual disability ranged from 13% in Utah to 54% in South Carolina. The two sites with the highest proportions of children classified above the range of intellectual disability (IQ >70) were Utah (87%) and New Jersey (73%). In all seven sites reporting data on intellectual ability, a higher proportion of females with ASDs had intellectual disability compared with males, although the proportions differed significantly (52% for females and 35% for males; p<0.01) in only one site (North Carolina). When data from these seven sites were combined, 150 (46%) of 328 females with ASDs had IQ scores or examiners’ statements indicating intellectual disability compared with 608 (37%) of 1,653 males.

This is how I interpret this:

1) IQ is an antiquated concept.  The idea that a person has a fixed amount of “intelligence” that will remain the same for his or her entire life does not match well with what we know now about the brain and learning.  Teenagers’ IQs can change as much as 20 points in a few years:

Professor Cathy Price and colleagues administered IQ tests and MRI scans to 33 healthy teens — the first time in 2004, when the kids were 12 to 16 years old, and then a second time in 2007-08, when they were age 15 to 20. They found changes in individual subjects’ performance on the tests, with verbal IQ, nonverbal IQ and composite IQ fluctuating up or down, in some cases around 20 points.  In all, 39% of the sample had a change in verbal IQ, 21% in nonverbal IQ and 33% in composite IQ.

2) IQ tests are especially unreliable for autistic people. An IQ test is a snapshot, showing the subject’s performance on one day, on one task.  The capacity of autistic people to succeed on these tests varies more, in most cases, than the capacity of a neurotypical person from day to day and from one set of circumstances to another.  This makes a somewhat unreliable process extremely scattershot in its effectiveness.

3) IQ tests may not match the communicative capacity of an autistic person.  If you cannot communicate your ideas to another person, there is no way to test how intelligent they are.  Rose Eveleth emphasizes the importance of using nonverbal IQ tests with autistic children, after explaining some of the differences between verbal and nonverbal intelligence tests:

The average child will score around the same percentile for all these tests, both verbal and nonverbal. But an autistic child will not. Isabelle Soulieres, a researcher at Harvard University, gave a group of autistics both WISC and the Raven test to measure the difference between the two groups. Although she expected a difference, she was surprised at just how big the gap was. On average, autistic students performed 30 percentile points better on the Raven test than on WISC. Some kids jumped 70 percentile points. “Depending on which test you use, you get a very different picture of the potential of the kids,” she says. Other studies have confirmed this gap, although they found a smaller jump between tests.

4) We can assume that the scores in the CDC report are probably artificially low because of these difficulties.

5) There are still a significant number of autistic people who do have intellectual disabilities.

6) Autistic people with intellectual disabilities matter just as much as anyone else.  They are people, and they are part of our community.  I care very much about keeping them safe, creating opportunities for them, gaining from their contributions, and making them welcome.


If anything is “retarded,” it’s that they use these tests for autistic kids and act like it tells them anything. They tested my son when he was 4 and the tests showed him to be severely retarded and therefore they wanted to put him in a “multi”setting of children so disabled they couldn’t speak and unfortunately would likely never speak, nothing academic, basically a daycare or institution if you will. Oh and love how they decide all this when a child is 4 years old. They use these tests to write children off. At age seven my son is in a mixed class with typically developing children, and is above grade level in reading.His language has come along amazingly, and once again, he had been written off so many times in that department as well. Still, I’m sure if he was given another IQ test today the results would again be abysmal. These tests are aimed at the core of an autistic childs disability. It is like testing a kid in a wheelchair with CP on how well they walk.MY friend whos daughter has CP told me, when her daughter was young her teachers were obsessed with having her write her name, they would spend forever on this. Finally my friend was like, she knows her name, give her a stamp and let her stamp it geeez. This is a child who is now in college and graduated with a regular high school diploma, honors. I agree though, if my son was given an IQ test in a way that I could reword the questions for him, the results would most likely be much, much better.

— added by Eileen from Florida on Tuesday, April 3, 2012 at 8:54 am

“Autistic people with intellectual disabilities matter just as much as anyone else. They are people, and they are part of our community.”


— added by Liane on Tuesday, April 3, 2012 at 5:11 pm

This post was so pertinent to my family right now. We just took our eight-year-old to a well-known hospital with an autism program to have him evaluated. The psychologist tried an IQ with him, and told us afterward he fell into the “intellectually disabled” range. Just for fun I got out his iPad and started asking him questions, doing some academics with him as well. Her jaw literally dropped as she watched him “surf” through the screens, and I could tell she believed me that he’s been reading since he was three, and wielding a computer mouse correctly since the tender age of two. So much for the traditional test… Sometimes we really have to point out to people what our kids are capable of doing!

— added by kim mccafferty on Wednesday, April 4, 2012 at 2:38 pm

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