Autism “Intelligence” Tests Send Mixed Messages to Parents

When experts say your Autistic child has low IQ and obstacles to learning but they are curious and intelligent, ignore that number. It doesn’t define them.

A 5-minute conversation with my son, and you will discover an intelligent, opinionated young man who can share his beliefs and express his values. He can listen, understand your opinion, and be considerate of that.

At 19, he’s still impressionable and keen to increase his knowledge. Yet again, those are sides of him overlooked by professionals – educators and physicians who focus on his failings of sentence structure, the scruffy writing, the inability to comprehend complex wording.

Is this the same person they tested?

His results indicate a general learning difficulty.

They tell me he lacks verbal comprehension, that his “perceptual reasoning” index is low, “working memory” borderline, and processing speed well under average.

When he first received such results at age 4, I was shocked.

But after a couple of weeks of ableist sorrow, I looked at him and saw a happy, loving little boy, and wondered why I was sad.

A few months later, his teacher confirmed for me that the test did not reflect my son’s potential.

A psychological test at age 9 produced another low score.

This time I didn’t listen.

A boy talking about World War 2 wasn’t one with a cognitive ability of age 6.

It was a battle, but my son performed well in school with the assistance he deserved.

What have I learned?

As a parent who has received such mixed messages for 15 years, my recommendation is to stop believing IQ tests reliably measure children’s intellect, especially neurodivergent kids.

Denial may be listed in my parental reports, but I have accepted and embraced my son’s autistic neurotype already. What I won’t accept is that he is unintelligent.

His achievements at school prove these tests wrong.

Research on whether IQ tests accurately assess Autism

Many articles have been written about the discrepancies between test results of Autistics and non-Autistics — about how these neurotypical-designed IQ tests are not a good example of Autistic intelligence.

Here are 3, 2 of which are academic journal articles:

Does WISC-IV Underestimate the Intelligence of Autistic Children?

The Level and Nature of Autistic Intelligence

Michelle Dawson on Autism and Atypicality (Ep. 46)

They are great and should give you reassurance, but that ease can only go so far.

The reality is that a lot of kids getting these IQ tests won’t have been diagnosed Autistic. They may meet the criteria and be diagnosed soon, or they may never be diagnosed.

If you want to better understand exactly why autistic intelligence can’t be measured by an IQ test, read this NeuroClastic article.

On Autism and Intelligence: Measuring & Understanding IQ

IQ tests restrict access to educational tools

My own son wasn’t diagnosed until he was 11. His access to effective education was reliant on that diagnosis.

Since the test doesn’t accurately measure autistic intelligence, should a child have to be diagnosed as autistic to have their intelligence acknowledged?

These problematic results restrict what all students need — an acceptance of their competency. They need for the words they say, or the communication they express to be taken seriously. They require respect for their needs without judgement.

No one should be judged on their IQ test. Thinking this is a very ableist concept. For more on ableism, please read this Ableism 101.

So what are these tests useful for?

One of my son’s teachers explained they are simply to find out what support is needed for the individual.

In the present world of scarce resources, this method of assessing supports may be disputed, ignored, hidden, or neglected.

This report is a useful tool. Use this tool. Demand this tool, and fight for this tool because your child deserves the best. Never stop pushing for it.

The rest of the report, ignore. Save an electronic copy, stick it in a drawer, and ignore it.

Don’t bin it. You might need it for disability claims or to fight for support.

And please don’t cry over it. It’s just a document written from a 2-hour visit. This is not any realistic guide to your child.

Fights will come and go. Professionals will come and go. Teachers will be good and bad. Fights will continue. But you will get stronger and your advocacy will become more assertive.

Never back down. As a parent, listen to your child, listen to Autistic adults, and follow your instincts.

No one knows your child like you do, and never ever let them think they do, you’ve got this. 🙂

To check out some free help for your child, please visit another of my articles Free communication resources for Autistic kids.

As for my son, he’s just got a new computer and set it up himself.

Always assume competence. Always trust your instincts.

4 Comments

  1. One hellava short story! You rock Mama… 🙂

    You are absolutely correct. Nobody knows your child like you do!
    A two hour visit/exam by an outside Professional isn’t necessary proof of any pudding.

    Thanks for sharing your experiences.

    1. Author

      Thank you 🙂

  2. The new WISC 5 is not a good measure of an Autistic Child’s IQ. In my practice, I take about three weeks to get to know the child with their parents. I give the Parents the GARS-3 and the ASEBA as it pertains to the age of the child/adolescent. I Use the WISC-R for IQ testing. I take about 5 to six one hour visits with the child and parent to complete the WISC-R. Taking time to do a test with an Autistic Individual will yield better results. If you stress them out by pushing the testing in 2 hours, results may not be valid. The WAIS-R is an older version of the current testing, however, it measures Right and Left brain ability and wit a total of 15 tests, the clinician can see where the Autistic Individual may have deficits. I have been criticized for using this older for of an IQ test but, It is accurate and you will know what deficits are there and how to advise the Parents/care givers and school how to develop an IEP tat is functional and productive. However, I believe we are a long way off from schools concerning about individuals with Autism and their needs to become successful. I have had great success with the WISC-R and helping school aged individuals with what they need. Educational Psychologist have been a problem due to the time it takes to give this test. Good Luck.

  3. Iq results are a measure of how good you are at doing iq tests I do not see how they are relevent.

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