IQ scores fail to predict academic performance in children with autism

November 17, 2010, University of Washington

New data show that many children with autism spectrum disorders have greater academic abilities than previously thought. In a study by researchers at the University of Washington, 90 percent of high-functioning children with autism spectrum disorders showed a discrepancy between their IQ score and their performance on reading, spelling and math tests.

" is a potential source of self-worth and source of feeling of mastery that people may not have realized is available to children with autism," said Annette Estes, research assistant professor at the UW's Autism Center.

Improved autism diagnosis and early behavioral interventions have led to more and more children being ranked in the high-functioning range, with average to above average IQs. Up to 70 percent of are considered high-functioning, though they have significant social communication challenges.

With early interventions that improve social skills and curb problem behaviors, more high-functioning children with autism are able to learn in regular education classrooms. In Estes' study, most of the participants – 22 of 30 – were in regular education classrooms. The study was published online Nov. 2 in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.

Little is known about how these children actually perform in regular classrooms, which has implications for how to assign support services. Since IQ scores in the general population reliably predict academic performance – as measured by standardized tests for word reading, spelling and basic number skills – Estes and her colleagues thought the same would be true in their sample of 30 high-functioning 9 year olds with autism spectrum disorders.

"What we found was astounding: 27 out of the 30 children – that's 90 percent – had discrepancies between their IQ score and scores on at least one of the academic achievement tests," Estes said. "Some scored higher and some scored lower than what their would predict."

To the researchers' surprise, 18 of the 30 children tested higher than predicted on at least one of the academic tests. This was especially true for spelling and word reading. Across the three academic tests, 18 of the 30 children scored lower than what their IQs would predict, suggesting a learning disability.

Estes and her co-authors also found a link between social skills and academic ability in school. Specifically, children who had higher social skills at age 6, including introducing themselves to others and a willingness to compromise and cooperate, had better word reading skills at age 9. The children have participated in this study since they were 3 or 4 years old, when they were diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders by the staff at the UW's Autism Center.

The study did not look at the students' performance in school, a next step for the researchers. "We need to know if children with who have these higher-than-expected scores are able to demonstrate their abilities in the classroom in terms of grades and other measures of success," Estes said. "This could influence placement in classes that adequately challenge them."

The children who scored below their predicted level may be struggling in certain subjects. "We want to get them the assistance they need to reach their potentials," Estes said.

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Scientists gain new insight on how antibodies interact with widespread respiratory virus

February 22, 2018
Scientists have found and characterized the activity of four antibodies produced by the human immune system that target an important protein found in respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), according to new research published ...

Study reveals how kidney disease happens

February 22, 2018
Monash researchers have solved a mystery, revealing how certain immune cells work together to instigate autoimmune kidney disease.

Past encounters with the flu shape vaccine response

February 20, 2018
New research on why the influenza vaccine was only modestly effective in recent years shows that immune history with the flu influences a person's response to the vaccine.

Building better tiny kidneys to test drugs and help people avoid dialysis

February 16, 2018
A free online kidney atlas built by USC researchers empowers stem cell scientists everywhere to generate more human-like tiny kidneys for testing new drugs and creating renal replacement therapies.

Study suggests expanded range for emerging tick-borne disease

February 16, 2018
Human cases of Borrelia miyamotoi, a tick-borne infection with some similarities to Lyme disease, were discovered in the eastern United States less than a decade ago. Now new research led by the Yale School of Public Health ...

Expanding Hepatitis C testing to all adults is cost-effective and improves outcomes

February 16, 2018
According to a new study, screening all adults for hepatitis C (HCV) is a cost-effective way to improve clinical outcomes of HCV and identify more infected people compared to current recommendations. Using a simulation model, ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.