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IQ and High Functioning Autistic

By Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D

Q: My son is 6 years old and was diagnosed as high functioning autistic when he was 5. He didn't start talking until he was 3, but he met all of his other milestones at the appropriate age. He doesn't seem to have any "special" interests (they change every few months), and he doesn't talk incessantly about any subject. But he does learn quickly and has an excellent memory.

I feel that he has an average IQ, although I wonder if that will change in the future. Last year, in kindergarten, his reading and math scores were higher than his NT classmates. This was a surprise to us! Can giftedness come at a later age? Or is his diagnose of autism possibly masking his intelligence?

A: High functioning autism (HFA) are children who are autistic by definition yet are able to communicate, do not have overly severe social impairments, and have only minor deficits in autism. Their IQ ratings are near normal, normal, or even high, so you may have an answer here. I believe HFA is sometimes used in the same thought as Asperger's Syndrome.

Have you tested your son's IQ? It is quite possible that your son to be above average in terms of intelligence and this is not surprising for children diagnosed with HFA. It is also possible that you son is gifted and his giftedness being masked due to the labeling. I believe that this is not something that came at a later age, but has probably been there, just unidentified. This may be the case also because giftedness and HFA don not always work together. Sometimes the characteristics of one syndrome simply take over the other. Gifted HFA may unintentionally engage in behaviors that provoke a ridiculing or teasing reaction from others in part because they lack the perspective to see their actions as inappropriate.

The main distinction between highly gifted children and those with HFA are; the highly gifted are usually socially isolated, independent of peers, advanced and sophisticated vocabulary, use complex cognition and advanced understanding as opposed to HFA individuals who are generally more socially incompetent, unskilled with peers,
hyperlexic, use simple cognition and advanced memorization.

With the right intervention, the HFA child can learn to overcome his difficulties and eventually be mainstreamed into a regular classroom. People often have misconceptions of HFA children that they are unable to accomplish or even learn many tasks if the reflect low IQ scores. This is not true since measuring the IQ of such children cannot be done with any degree of accuracy. Many factors, such as distractions in the testing environment as well as their level of hyperactivity may interfere with the test taking. Sometimes, the child may just require more time to respond along with some visual input to help clarify a question. This is especially true since autistics tend to think in more visual terms than most people do. It is also true that they tend to have a much higher performance IQ compared to verbal IQ.

It is a fact that if literature is reviewed, it is often indicated that truly outstanding in any field may be associated with some type of abnormality. Therefore, perhaps, a little bit of autism genes may provide an intellectual advantage and too much of the genetic may cause a severe case of autism.


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