Thursday, August 16, 2007

Autistic Kids Score Better on Alternative IQ Test

Autistic children typically score poorly on traditional IQ tests which are based on verbal responses to a stranger's questions. But what if the children took a different test, one that allowed them, by themselves, to analyze geometric shapes to identify patterns?

As Sharon Begley of Newsweek recounts in the August 20 issue, researchers found that the second method showed that autistic children performed, on average, much better. Read the article, "The Puzzle of Hidden Ability," here.

The article picks up on a study published in the August 2007 journal Psychological Science, "The Level and Nature of Autistic Intelligence," by autism researchers in Montreal and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. See abstract for the study here. One of the researchers, Michelle Dawson of the Riviere-des-Prairies Hospital in Montreal, tells Newsweek that the traditional IQ test known as Wechsler that calls for talking to a stranger is unfair, comparing it to "giving a blind person an intelligence test that requires him to process visual information."

The different test, called Raven's Progressive Matrices test, yielded different results. Begley writes:

For the study, children took two IQ tests. In the more widely used Wechsler, they tried to arrange and complete pictures, do simple arithmetic, demonstrate vocabulary comprehension and answer questions such as what to do if you find a wallet on the street—almost all in response to a stranger's questions. In the Raven's Progressive Matrices test, they got brief instructions, then went off on their own to analyze three-by-three arrays of geometric designs, with one missing, and choose (from six or eight possibilities) the design that belonged in the empty place. The disparity in scores was striking. One autistic child's Wechsler result meant he was mentally retarded (an IQ below 70); his Raven's put him in the 94th percentile. Overall, the autistics (all had full-blown autism, not Asperger's) scored around the 30th percentile on the Wechsler, which corresponds to "low average" IQ. But they averaged in the 56th percentile on the Raven's. Not a single autistic child scored in the "high intelligence" range on the Wechsler; on the Raven's, one third did. Healthy [typically developing] children showed no such disparity.
The article points out that the results of these tests often have an influence on what kind of expectations parents and educators place on a child and can have lifelong implications. And while the Wechsler test is widely used, the Raven's test could be a truer measure of intelligence, one that enables evaluators and parents alike to discover an intellectual abilities they weren't aware of previously.

Sidenote comment: Begley is an award-winning reporter, whose work I have read for a long time in the Wall Street Journal before she joined Newsweek. She's consistently terrific. But in this story, she allows a quote from an unnamed person who basically disparages parents of disabled kids everywhere -- and parents of autistic kids in particular -- as willing to trade a severe diagnosis for better special education services. Here's the passage:

If many autistics are more intelligent than an IQ test shows, why haven't their parents noticed? Partly because many parents welcome a low score, which brings their child more special services from schools and public agencies, says one scientist who has an autistic son (and who fears that being named would antagonize the close-knit autism community).
I've read this canard before, but never with solid evidence to back it up. I'm disappointed that such a distinguished writer would stick this unfounded comment in there from a person who won't stand up and say who he is, and on what he bases this opinion. A scientist no less. Readers deserve better.


Mel said...

My son has had IQ tests for non-verbal children, but I wonder if this is different, as he is incredibly good at patterns and all kinds of visual orientation. I am also curious what the "standard" that neuropsychologists use.

Anonymous said...

Modern medicine sees all mental illness deriving only from the brain - primarily from neurotransmitter imbalance and nothing else - the truth is that in many cases there is often an underlining physical cause (eg: infection, celiac disease, etc) and this is often never investigated, and so its no wonder today we are faced with the current tragedy that the Mentally ill die 25 years earlier, so what about these studies: 'An autopsy of 82 patients who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia. Gastritis was found in 50%, enteritis in 85% and colitis in 92%.'
'99% certain of a genetic association between schizophrenia and coeliac disease'
'Enterocolitis discovered in the majority of children with Autistic spectrum disorders'

Zurama L. Johnston said...

Great article. I ran into your blog while researching for appropriate tests for my son who has severe autism and is non verbal.

He was given a standard IQ test that showed him as being retarded. How unfair is that. I plan an requesting a records change and have the words mentally retarded removed from his file.

Anonymous said...

My 12 y.o son was diagnosed with PDD-nos last year. We are having our PPT/IEP to transition him to the next grade. He had his last Wisc test in 2nd grade.

I would like to ask for the RAVEN test done , does the school do this , or do I need to consult someone on my own?

Michael Goldberg said...

You can ask your school department, but you may need to find a developmental psychologist or other medical professional to help you get the test done.

Yin said...

Discussed with the orthopedagoog (medical pedagogy) who had taken the Wisc test at my son. She explained that Raven is a good and easy test to perform but gives a narrow result. If a child is verbally at a certain level (can cope with a certain school level, interact in conversations, follow up verbal orders even if it has to be cut in 3 parts to get him to the end result) a child should be able to perform Wisc and the details of the test result will give you a better knowledge on where the child does have it's problems with what we call intelligence. Is it on the verbal side and if so what part of the verbal side. Is it on the performal side and if so what part of it. 3 additional test parts give addtional information.

Whereas Raven only shows the visual received orders and performance.

However this may give you a nice high IQ score it won't help you that much in finding the bottle necks for your child to use this intelligence.

But if you have a child that you can't reach verbally Raven is a very good test to perform. Raven can also always be performed in addition to for example Wisc.

Anonymous said...

As a mother of two autistic children I can say emphatically that the W test is most certainly inaccurate for children with language/communication delays, particularly if given at a young age before an autistic child has benefited from language and social therapies. I have seen the test administered on the same child at age 6 and then at 13 with a 30 point jump in score, simply because the child was old enough to have learned to engage through therapy. Did the child get smarter? I don't think so. The test was just highly inaccurate at an earlier age.

So either the test should not be used as a measure of potential, or, it should not be used at all until the child is able to verbalize, understand language and engage. I will not allow this test to be administered to my second child until I feel her language and social skills have improved enough for it to be accurate. You do not need and IQ test to recognize and address deficiencies. There are other ways to do that. However an inaccurate IQ test can create low expectations for your child that can damage his/her lifelong potential.

Anonymous said...

While the Raven may not be considered "comprehensive", I can assure you that the TONI (Test of Nonverbal Intelligence) is. I have a son that scored a 73 on the Wisc prior to age 7 but a 51 when tested years later. And because he has multiple behavioral disorders in addition to his learning disabilities that make it difficult for him to regulate his emotional response which requires hospitalization in a long term treatment facility, I can tell you an accurate measure of his IQ is crucial. Because he is 9 years old and supposedly has the IQ of 51, the state of KY outsources his treatment as there is no facility in KY that will accept a child of his age with his so called IQ. Btw, it is immediately apparent to everyone, not just his mother, how intelligent this child is, not at all indicative of his standardized score. I highly reccomend the TONI as I am currently pursuing this comprehensive test for my son as well.

Jane Marie said...

Man parents would welcome a low score because their kids would get services?? What a stupid thing to say. I felt my heart break and then the little pieces fell down into my shoes when I was told my son's IQ was 65. I know it's higher than that, though I believe it was a modified test.