A few years ago, Annette Estes was recruiting children with autism for a study relating intelligence quotient IQ scores to academic achievement. Among the recruits, Estes recalls, was a child who was excluded from the study both because she was non-verbal and because she acted out severely during the interview.

IQ scores not a good measure of function in autism

Most studies define high-functioning children as those with an IQ above 70 or 80, but this is problematic for a number of reasons, say some scientists. In an ongoing study of children between 14 and 16 years of age in the U. Early analyses of their data show that there is no evidence as yet for a different cognitive phenotype in individuals with high IQs compared with those who have a low IQ 1. IQ scores generally relate to the ability to communicate or to adapt to daily life, but they are far from perfect indicators of cognitive, much less global, functioning, Charman says.

Her study sample of 30 children was drawn from a larger group of children enrolled in a longitudinal study when they were 3 or 4 years old. The only criterion for inclusion was having received a diagnosis on the autism spectrum. As the children aged, however, functional differences emerged.

At the same time, it was clear that some of those children were quite intelligent. One child who was unable to complete the index task to enter the study quickly answered all of the math problems on his own initiative. However, intellectual disability as measured by IQ scores can vary, depending on the test used. Non-verbal children, for example, garner low scores on verbal IQ tests but may score at an age-appropriate level on tests of spatial intelligence.

The Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children, commonly used in autism studies, gets around this difficulty by returning scores for both verbal and non-verbal, or performance, IQ, which can be further broken down into more discrete categories.

But if researchers use different tests or different thresholds to define high-functioning individuals, it becomes more difficult to compare results across studies. Regardless of the test, IQ may not be the best indicator of the ability of a person with autism to navigate the real world.

A person who scores on an IQ test — and thus considered high-functioning — may in fact be considerably impaired in daily activities. Levels of functioning can also change over time, Szatmari points out. In a multi-site Canadian study called Pathwayshe and colleagues are looking at how children with autism progress from diagnosis through grade 1 and, ultimately, grade 6. The team is seeing astonishing variability in both language skills and behavior in the 18 to 24 months following diagnosis, he says.

Even in the very limited arena of academic achievement, IQ may be less relevant than is commonly assumed. Some did better on spelling and reading tests than their IQ would predict and some did worse, even though IQ is tightly tied to academic achievement in healthy children.

A population study of more than 8, twin pairs in the U.Intelligence is a touchy, and complicated, subject when it comes to autism.

Lower-functioning end of the autism spectrum

When Dr. Leo Kanner first described the condition he named autism 70 years ago, he noted that some children he examined were thought to be intellectually disabled, although he suspected otherwise.

Their social, communication and behavior problems gave them the appearance of intellectual disability to a world as-yet unaware of autism's existence. Even today, autism itself can make it hard to test a child's intellectual ability. Imagine a young boy with poor language skills who prefers sameness and cannot tolerate fluorescent lights, all characteristics of autism spectrum disorder ASD.

Place him in a brightly-lit office with an IQ examiner — a stranger — asking him to do things he doesn't understand. Will he perform at his best, that is, assuming he can complete the test? Almost 10 years ago, when the Interactive Autism Network IAN began collecting research data from families, it faced a problem when it came to reporting on the intelligence of children with autism.

One in 10 children in IAN had been diagnosed with intellectual disability IDbut more than twice that many had an intelligence quotient IQ score of 70 or less, according to their parents. What did that mean? In those cases, which score was right? When American psychiatrists updated their diagnostic manual inthey acknowledged a difficulty with IQ tests and autism.

Although the manual says intellectual disability is common in autism, it cautions that measuring a child's intellectual ability may be complicated by the symptoms of autism itself.

The manual also says, "IQ scores in autism spectrum disorder may be unstable, particularly in early childhood. When French psychologist Alfred Binet developed the first modern IQ test in the early s, its purpose was to find children who needed special education help.

Binet never intended the IQ score to be a measure of intelligence, a concept "too complex to capture with a single number," according to evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould in The Mismeasure of Man. IQ tests have changed since then. Such tests measure skills that are generally important for success in school. Psychologists often include them in the battery of tests given to people suspected of having a learning disability or developmental disorder.

But IQ tests measure only a part of what we often think of as intelligence, which includes a person's ability to solve problems, reason, plan, think abstractly, and learn from the world around him.

When determining if someone has intellectual disability, doctors should look at more than just IQ, according to the psychiatric diagnosis manual. They also should consider adaptive functioning, that is, how well the person performs skills necessary for everyday life.High-functioning autism HFA is an informal term applied to individuals with autisman IQ of 80 or above, and the ability to speak, read, and write.

Care should be exercised when attempting to determine whether a person with autism is "high functioning" or "low functioning" based on an IQ score since it is sometimes difficult to measure IQ in autistic persons accurately using standard measurement instruments.

The amount of language processing necessary on the tests and the large quantity of verbal instructions involved in the testing process even on the "non-verbal" portion of standard intelligence measures can produce a misleadingly low score.

There can be a significant difference between an autistic person's measured IQ scores when comparing standard testing methods and a truly non-verbal method such as the Leiter-R. Analogous to high-functioning when applied to schizophrenia and other psychiatric disorders, the term high-functioning autism started out as a shorthand to describe diagnosed autistic individuals who could nevertheless speak and carry on with many day-to-day activities like eating and dressing independently.

Low-functioning autism was the conceptual opposite. Researchers then began using high-functioning autism as a quasi-diagnostic label itself, along with low-functioning autism and sometimes also Asperger's Syndrom e, to distinguish relative levels of adaptation and development. There is some evidence that the label has wrongly become a catch-all diagnosis for badly-behaved children.

He wrote in the prestigious British Journal of Psychiatry:- "There is a risk of the diagnosis of autism being extended to include anyone whose odd and troublesome personality does not readily fit some other category. Such over-inclusion is likely to devalue the diagnosis to a meaningless label. Although individuals with Asperger's tend to perform better cognitively than those with autism, the extent of the overlap between Asperger's and high-functioning autism is unclear.

A neuropsychological profile has been proposed for Aspergers syndrome; if verified, it could differentiate between Aspergers syndrome and high-functioning autism and aid in differential diagnosis.

high functioning autism iq range

Relative to high-functioning autism, people with Aspergers syndrome have deficits in nonverbal skills such as visual-spatial problem solving and visual-motor coordination, along with stronger verbal abilities. Several studies have found Aspergers syndrome with a neuropsychologic profile of assets and deficits consistent with a nonverbal learning disability, but several other studies have failed to replicate this.

The literature review did not reveal consistent findings of "nonverbal weaknesses or increased spatial or motor problems relative to individuals with high-functioning autism", leading some researchers to argue that increased cognitive ability is evidenced in Aspergers syndrome relative to high-functioning autism regardless of differences in verbal and nonverbal ability. Autistic people are prone to commit social faux pas because of an inability to predict others' reactions.

They may also neglect social niceties like knocking or returning a greeting. Similarly, they may be overly trusting or paranoid of strangers. They may appear somewhat removed or dissociated or dreamy at times, especially when in sensory overload or from a perception of extreme social pressure.

They may make little eye contactleading others to conclude that they are shy, uninterested or evasive.


Unlike those with low-functioning autism, people with high-functioning autism are not mentally retarded; persons with high-functioning autism have an IQ at the average to above-average range. Although they may have an adequate vocabulary, they may have a delay in communicating events and use less emotional content in their speech.

They may also appear not to notice non-verbal cues from others such as when others have become bored with the topic of conversation they appear oblivious and continue. As with people elsewhere on the autism spectrum, people with high-functioning autism generally prefer routine and order, and this usually begins in early childhood.

They may, for example, write an alphabetized index of their comic book collection, or they may stick to a limited wardrobe.High intelligence, as measured by intelligence quotient IQtypically predicts good scores on tests of memory, facial recognition and other cognitive functions. This trend does not apply to children with autism, suggests a new study 1. The study, published 7 October in PLoS Oneshows that children with autism who have IQs below 85, the low end of the average IQ range, show cognitive problems similar to those of controls with equivalent IQs.

But children with autism who have IQ scores higher thanthe high end of the average range, do much worse on cognitive tests than do controls with similar IQs. The findings suggest that low intelligence underlies cognitive deficits in only some children with autism. In children with autism who score well on IQ tests, these problems may stem from other origins entirely, says lead researcher Nanda Rommelseassociate professor of psychiatry at Radboud University in Nijmegen, the Netherlands.

If the results hold up, therapies that target cognitive skills may turn out to be especially beneficial to intellectually gifted children with autism. Rommelse and her team tested various cognitive abilities in children with autism and controls between 6 and 21 years of age. Across both groups, 52 children have below-average IQs. Half of the remaining children have average IQs, and the other half have above-average IQs.

The researchers used a series of computer tasks to probe a basic range of cognitive functions, from face processing to working memory. To test basic processing speed, for example, the researchers measured how quickly children could react when a cross on a screen changed into a white square.

Children tapped their verbal working memory by trying to repeat a series of numbers in reverse order. Social cognition tests involved recognizing faces and inferring emotions from facial expressions and voices. The researchers combined the scores from all the tests to calculate an overall score for each child. Typically developing children with above-average IQs had the highest combined score, and, as expected, the scores dropped along with IQ.

Among children with below-average IQs, those with autism had cognitive abilities similar to those of controls. But among children with above-average IQs, those with autism had substantially lower cognitive scores than controls did. The findings suggest that intelligence scores signal cognitive problems only among children with autism who have a low IQ. The researchers did not see any statistically significant differences between children with autism and controls in the relationship between IQ and specific aspects of cognition, such as face recognition or working memory.

By joining the discussion, you agree to our privacy policy. Spectrum: Autism Research News. About Subscribe. News The latest developments in autism research. See All in News. Search and locate: To measure visual pattern recognition, researchers ask children to report whether a given pattern top matches any of those in a set of four bottom. References: Rommelse N. Join The Discussion By joining the discussion, you agree to our privacy policy.

Read more about our privacy policy.In the decades before autism was officially recognized and diagnosed, most autistic patients were relegated to the general diagnosis of mental retardation or, in milder cases, learning disabled. But the true links between autism and intelligence are more complicated and much more fascinating. Today, autism is considered a separate disability from intellectual disability, which is the category assigned to anyone with an IQ at or below Among the general population, intellectual disability rates run at about 1 percent; among ASD Autism Spectrum Disorder patients, the rate is closer to 40 percent according to the Center for Autism Research.

In addition to having a much higher correlation, there is a lot of speculation that the two conditions may have a causative relationship. However, establishing these numbers and correlations is complicated because the standard methods of IQ testing are not necessarily effective with autistic individuals. A study looking into these issues concluded that the links between autism and intellectual disability were less common than had been historically assumed.

In fact, when autism was first diagnosed, the link between the disorder and intellectual disability was actually called into question. Modern IQ tests are more accurate and may make use of techniques to assess intelligence without inadvertently being thrown off by autism symptoms. The Test of Nonverbal Intelligence TONIfor example, allows psychologists to make an assessment of individuals who may have motor and language skill difficulties.

But the jury is still out on whether or not autism itself contributes to intellectual disabilities. In fact, there is almost as much evidence that the correlation could be in the opposite direction. There have been theories about underlying connections between autism and intelligence for years. The stereotypes of the mad professor or the eccentric genius are old ones, and some modern psychologists theorize that illustrious scientists such as Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein might have been autistic.

InCambridge University undertook a study of almost half a million people and uncovered intriguing evidence that autistic traits although not necessarily full-blown autism are more common among people involved in the science, technology, engineering, and math STEM fields… careers historically requiring quite a lot of brainpower.

Another study that same year uncovered a likely genetic link between autism and genius— families that were more likely to produce autistic children were also more likely to produce geniuses. This trend may be under-recognized in the ASD population, according to a study that found that, while low-IQ ASD patients performed the worst in cognitive function tests, high-IQ ASD patients performed worse relative to a non-autistic control group.

The study concluded that different cognitive processes could be affected in high-IQ individuals with ASD, potentially creating the likelihood that their intelligence is further underrated on standard tests. In one sense, it should be no great surprise that a disability arising from fundamental differences in brain structure, such as ASD, could correlate to another quality based on brain structure. Yet it continues to be mysterious that one syndrome could result in such radically different outcomes in different patients.

high functioning autism iq range

MRI investigations comparing the brains of ASD patients to neurotypical control groups unearth any number of differences in activity within the areas of the brain commonly used for social communication and restricted and repetitive behaviors.

In the case of autistic savants, those areas are apparently repurposed to perform other feats of intelligence. Understanding why this happens in some cases but not others is simply another line of inquiry in attempts to understand the mechanisms of autism.

It should not, however, be something that therapists or families working with autistic patients should become obsessed with. More and more research is showing that ASD patients are closer to a normal range in both respects than was previously thought. Dealing with each patient as an individual, with their own capabilities and deficiencies, is the core of the functional behavior assessments used by applied behavior analysts to assess behavior deficits and develop treatment plans.

In time, the appropriate therapies may prove to both expose and help develop the underlying intelligence of ASD patients.

Is Autism Associated with Higher Intelligence?

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high functioning autism iq range

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high functioning autism iq range

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