What is intelligence?

The unique nature of people with autism results in low performance in tasks that require a lot of social and communication demands. Sharon Begley’s Newsweek article, “The Puzzle of Hidden Ability,” describes how this inability to perform affects intelligence testing.

Traditional intelligence testing requires an individual to communicate and perform in a social manner; individuals with autism don’t do well in this type of testing environment. Many individuals with autism have a co-occurring label of mental retardation, perhaps because of this inability to perform on standard IQ tests. 

Begley shares that there may be a new method to assess the intelligence of individuals with autism, a method that does not penalize for social and communication deficits.

I have always wondered about the inherent value of intelligence testing.

Our society’s value of intelligence is extensive. When a parent shares that their child has a genius IQ, everybody’s eyebrows raise in admiration. The MENSA test can be found everywhere from in-flight magazines to Reader’s Digest. I know I feel good when I can at least answer a few of the questions posed on the test. 

What would it mean if I could not answer any of them?

What if I could answer all of them?

Would my ability to contribute to society decrease? Increase?

Will the value of individuals with autism increase because when their IQ is assessed differently, the results will be a higher number?

Individuals rise to expectations – those with autism and those without. 

I expect that all individuals with autism will become productive members of society. Given the proper supports - individuals with autism can be employed, have meaningful relationships and enjoy life in their community. 

This is what I expect of people with autism, a meaningful contribution to society while experiencing happiness in their life. 

I also expect society to provide the proper supports to make this quality of life possible. Right now, there are limited resources to individuals with autism. Employment rates are low and many adults with autism do not have places to live or positive recreation opportunities. 

Perhaps a modified test that results in a higher IQ for individuals with autism can lead to higher expectations, which in turn will push demand for proper supports to make achievement possible.

If you are interested in promoting support for individuals with autism now – make sure you share this desire with your legislators.


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  1. Patricia Wright Says:

    Deborah – thanks for visiting the Easter Seals site and providing a personal glimpse into the ue of IQ testing. IQ tests have a long history of being challenged within the special education system. In 1972 the Larry P case (http://www.ericdigests.org/pre-927/legal.htm)determined that students of African American descent were being incorrectly placed in special education classrooms due to an IQ testing bias – this resutled in a change in the manner students were assessed and placed. Thirty-five years later we are still trying to develop a test without bias.

  2. Deborah Says:

    Where my soon to be 10 year old son who lives with autism, is concerned I have stopped his school from using the standard IQ test from being performed on him.
    Until someone develops and IQ test that is spefically designed for the autistic brain/mind I will never allow this kind of testing again.


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