IQs and ID

15 Feb

I recently ran into an issue when considering “Intellectual Disability” diagnoses among those with autism. Intellectual Disability (ID) was formerly known as “mental retardation”. Diagnostic criteria looks at adaptive skills in addition to IQ scores. Both adaptive skills and IQ are measured using standardized tests.

And therein lie the problem.

“Standardized” tests, by definition, are given in the exact same way for all it’s test takers. The problem this poses to those with autism is obvious (or at least it is in my mind, anyways). Children with autism are not like every other test taker… they all have unique strengths and challenges.

Many children with autism have attention issues. While they may notice the tiny piece of frayed rug, or the patterns in the painting on the wall, they may not be attending to the instructions given to them. Or, while they may be able to sit for a couple questions at a time, they may get restless or require sensory breaks in order to sit for longer periods of time.

Another aspect of standardized testing is that it relies on a child’s ability to follow directions. Many times children with autism do not comply with instructions, not because they don’t understand them, but because they don’t want to. How is the administrator going to know whether it’s a compliance (behavioral) issue, or an intelligence issue? They’re not… so it will just be marked as an incorrect response.

Let’s also consider the response time aspect of testing. Perhaps a child does know the answer, but takes longer to process the question and produce a response.

Now, I’m not saying that testing considerations are the only problem and otherwise all autistic kids would show high IQs.  What I’m saying is that there is no way to know for sure whether a child doesn’t know the answer or just isn’t providing the answer. And, clearly issues with attention, compliance, and response time make it problematic for people to function in the world we live in. So deficits in those areas should be, and need to be, considered when looking at the overall functioning of the individual. But, what I am suggesting is that these tests do not look at the overall WHOLE person, and they have no way of truly measuring the intelligence of a child with autism. They simply measure an ability to respond to questions. And, responding to questions is not synonymous with “intelligence” in my book.

To me, it would be like giving an english test to a spanish speaking child. They will score pretty low on many of the questions, not necessarily because they don’t know the answers, but because the questions aren’t being asked in a way the child can understand.

Giving a test made for typically developing children to ATYPICAL children does not provide a valid measurement of intelligence. That is my whole-hearted belief. And using the scores of such a test to determine a secondary diagnosis of “Intellectual Disability” is misleading, and an incomplete representation of the child. Einstein said it best….


(PS- why is IQ so important anyways? If the child already has an autism diagnosis, we already know they have deficits in socialization and communication. What value does an IQ score add?)


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