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How IQ Tests Underestimate Autistic Students’ Intelligence

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The Raven’s Matrices test for reasoning, novel problem-solving abilities, and high-level abstraction by using non-verbal multiple choice questions. As the PLoS ONE study’s authors emphasize, while a “distinctively uneven profile of intelligence is a feature of the autistic spectrum” — such that “autistic spectrum intelligence is atypical” — it is also “genuine, general, and underestimated.”

We haven’t had Charlie take the Raven’ss Matrices and since testing is always stressful for him — he knows full well he is being judged and evaluated — I don’t think that we will in the near future. But he clearly has a sense for the kinds of non-verbal questions about patterns that the Raven’s Matrices focus on. Often my husband Jim and I have wondered if the very large gap between Charlie’s intelligence and his ability to speak and use words — he has not taken to using any augmentative communication devices — is one reason for the difficult behaviors he can have (including self-injurious ones); that he is so frustrated that he can’t say what he is thinking, his feelings and thoughts come out in a very messy way. He is now at a school where the teachers and therapists understand him very well so those difficult moments have lessened, but can still happen at times of change and transition.

According to the On Special Education blog, while psychologists often note that an IQ test does not seem to really convey a child’s intelligence, school staff “are also under pressure from schools to assess students in certain ways.”  I appreciate Carothers’ response:

“Do what you have to do to satisfy your districts and then do with the kids what serves them best.”


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7:22AM PST on Feb 3, 2013

Thank you for sharing.

6:07PM PST on Dec 26, 2012

I do think autism has nothing to do with intelligence and it probably stems from older times when we knew less about the many ways people communicate. I have NDL, which is basically the opposite problem of what your son has but I agree that he very well could frustrated! I'm glad he is in a place where his needs are met now. I learn a lot differently than most so I have suffered very much from the public school system.

2:41PM PST on Dec 20, 2012

We can't place everyone into the same category of intelligence. Autistic people may not be too good at communicating but they could have something else that they're really good at like art, science or music.

3:43AM PST on Nov 21, 2012

I didn't find out that I have Asperger's until I was in my sixties. I was misdiagnosed as schizophrenic in my late teens. I disliked kindergarten. First through sixth was ok. I learned to read the first time I was allowed to open a book to read "a cat and a rat" after a few weeks of reciting "b buh, c cuh" etc. and then got away with spending most of my time in class just reading books. Secondary school was hell because I got so much homework, I was forced to take it home to work on and my mother got into it--insisting on correcting it and making me copy it over with her corrections--which I thought was grossly unfair to my teachers and my classmates who I had to compete with for grades and a major insult to me and it deprived me of a chance to learn how to proofread myself.

4:17AM PDT on Aug 6, 2012

good to know, thanks!

12:47PM PDT on Jun 28, 2012

I knew a boy in school who had "autistic tendencies" and he was one of the smartest and intellectual individuals I have ever known

1:37PM PDT on Apr 20, 2012


As IQ test are mostly based on writing, reading, speaking, they do not take in account any other form of intelligence.
For exemple, one said that dolphins are intelligent, but how a man could know something about an another intelligence than this one he is considering.
This is the same for autistic persons. Abilities and cleverness have to be considered from a viewpoint.

6:30AM PDT on Apr 19, 2012

The word autistic itself means "living within oneself." People with autism have difficulty communicating with the outside world, in spite of the fact that many have normal or even superior intelligence. The short documentary, "Autism is a World," shows a great example of how wide this dichotomy can be (here's a clip:

Stephen Hawking has a physical disability, but thanks to the right technology, he can continue to provide us with the insights of his thoughts. How many great minds have been denied that opportunity - and continue to lack a voice - because those of us blessed with normal communication and understanding have not yet found ways to help them speak?

3:07PM PDT on Apr 17, 2012

IQ scores do not always determine intelligence. An autistic student doesn't communicate verbally and often is not exposed to the same training and information that the average child is. I find it sad that test scores are used to judge children.

8:41AM PDT on Apr 17, 2012


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