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The level and nature of autistic intelligence

By Michelle Dawson, Isabelle Soulières, Morton Ann Gernsbacher and Laurent Mottron


ABSTRACT—Autistics are presumed to be characterized by cognitive impairment, and their cognitive strengths (e.g., in Block Design performance) are frequently interpreted as low-level by-products of high-level deficits, not as direct manifestations of intelligence. Recent attempts to identify the neuroanatomical and neurofunctional signature of autism have been positioned on this universal, but untested, assumption. We therefore assessed a broad sample of 38 autistic children on the preeminent test of fluid intelligence, Raven’s Progressive Matrices. Their scores were, on average, 30 percentile points, and in some cases more than 70 percentile points, higher than their scores on the Wechsler scales of intelligence. Typically developing control children showed no such discrepancy, and a similar contrast was observed when a sample of autistic adults was compared with a sample of nonautistic adults. We conclude that intelligence has been underestimated in autistics. Autism is defined by atypical communication, social interaction, interests, and body mannerisms. When Kanner (1943) originally codified the phenomenon of autism, he prognosticated that autistics’ 1 ‘‘excellent memory... and the precise recollection of complex patterns and sequences, bespeak good intelligence’’ (p. 247). However, more formal measurements in epidemiological studies have placed a substantial percentage of autistics in the range defined as mental retardation (e.g., 40 % in Baird et al., 2000; 25 % to 64 % in Kielinen, Linna, & Moilanen, 2000). The assumption that autistics are cognitively impaired pervades the popular and scientific literature. Autistics who are considered minimally verbal or nonverbal (i.e., who are severely challenged in their ability to speak fluently) are considered th

Year: 2007
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