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Autism: How is it connected to IQ?
TUESDAY, JUNE 23, 2015 11:13 AM

Are children with autism more likely to have high IQ scores? Some people associate high-functioning autism with being very intelligent. In fact, several highly successful and brainy people, from Albert Einstein to Amadeus Mozart, are suspected to have been autistic, based on their reported social skills and childhood development. Autism, or autism spectrum disorder, is a term for a group of brain development disorders. People with some types of autism, including the perhaps most well-known disorder, Asperger syndrome, can be very high functioning in life and careers. But are these people more intelligent because of their disorder? Here's what research has to say about how autism and IQ are connected:

Do people with autism have higher IQ scores?
The simple answer to this question is no. Various studies have concluded that having autism does not make a person more likely to have a higher IQ score, and, in fact, people with autism may be more likely to be mentally disabled (with an IQ score of less than 70 points). This was shown by an epidemiological study published in the journal Psychological Medicine, which assessed 156 children with autism between ages 10 and 14. Of the sample children, just 28 percent had average intelligence, while 55 percent had IQ scores below 70. Only 3 percent had IQ scores higher than 115.

Despite results like these, some researchers believe that autistic children are more intelligent than what can be concluded from their test scores. An article from Scientific American suggests that the problem may be that children with autism aren't able to accurately take traditional timed IQ tests, such as the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children or the Stanford Binet assessment, because of the tests' structures and focus on societal and cultural knowledge. 

Isabelle Soulieres, a researcher from Harvard, tested autistic children on both the WISC and Raven's Progressive Matrices, an assessment more in line with how their brain processes information, and found that they scored much higher on the Raven's test. 

"Many of those who are considered low-functioning - if you give them other intelligence tests, you will find hidden potential," Soulieres told Scientific American. "They can solve really complex problems if you give them material that they can optimally process."

The link between autism genes and IQ
Interestingly, despite the fact that autistic children don't appear to be any more likely than the general population to have higher IQ scores, people who are born with the genes that are associated with autism may be a different story. A study published in Molecular Psychology researched nearly 10,000 individuals in Scotland, and discovered that those who had more of the genetic variations that have been linked with autism - but who don't have the disorder - are more likely to score better on cognitive assessments. Researchers aren't sure why this is, but say that it's an interesting development for research regarding the link between IQ and autism. 

"Links between autism and better cognitive function have been suspected and are widely implied by the well-known Silicon Valley syndrome and films such as Rain Man," Nick Martin, co-author of the study, said in a statement.

The link between autism, IQ and anxiety
Anxiety in social situations is a commonly cited symptom of some autism disorders, including Asperger syndrome. Research has found that autistic children who do have above-average intelligence may experience this anxiety more than others with ASD. According to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, of 231 autistic children between the ages of 2 and 9, those with higher IQ scores were more likely to have anxiety, especially if they also had a better understanding of social skills and showed more aggression than other children.

Clearly, various research has been done to determine whether autism and intelligence are connected, but there is still a lot more to do.

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