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If an IQ bothers many people...

In the photograph we will be able to find some prominent figures in the history of humanity. And if you think I'm only talking about Albert Einstein you are wrong. This group met in 1927 at the Solvay International Conference, a group of emeritus physicists and chemists that discussed pertinent scientific issues. And why did I bring this picture? Because I remembered that if we added up the IQs of everyone in the picture, we would realise that it would equal the IQs of a football pitch full of people. And what does this have to do with autism?

We often hear that this or that person has high-functioning autism or has Asperger's Syndrome. Besides the two designations are not exactly the same thing, what matters is that some people think that autistic people are extremely competent from a cognitive and intellectual point of view. And it is not that there are not autistic people highly competent at this level, but not to the point of generalising in this way. Also, there is the fact that there are some celebrities with a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder and that because of that, there is an underlying image that autistic people could all be equally a celebrity. Not that there aren't autistic people who are celebrities, because there are. The point again is not to generalise. But in other people it is also possible to hear that autism is associated to an idea of people who are cognitively and intellectually less competent. Perhaps it has to do with the experience that the person had in some contact with an autistic person and got the idea, I would say, wrong, that autistic people all have a cognitive deficit. Once again, it is not that there are no autistic persons with cognitive deficit, because there are. But not to the point of generalisation. And it is also because of all this that many clinicians and researchers have studied the cognitive and intellectual profile of autistic people with the purpose of constituting specific subgroups of autism. This pathway has not reached those goals but it has allowed other knowledge to be obtained.

Autism Spectrum Disorder is characterised as a very heterogeneous onset condition in children, whose heterogeneity is partially determined by differences in intelligence quotient (IQ). Older epidemiological studies have suggested that the IQ-related spectrum tends to be skewed to the left. That is, a larger proportion of autistic people have a below average IQ, while only some autistic people may have an above average IQ. This picture has changed over time as the view of the spectrum has broadened. There seem to be several factors that may explain why things are not quite like this. For example, the influence of external factors such as sampling biases or differences in the availability of health services for autism. Furthermore, aspects related to the validity and reciprocal influences of the autism diagnosis and the IQ assessment itself need to be taken into account.

If on the one hand the epidemiological studies carried out in the 60s of the 20th century pointed to about 70% of autistic people with an IQ below 70. This same number has been changing and in 2000 it was around 50%, while more recently this percentage is closer to 30%. In other words, just as it has been asked whether we are witnessing an autism epidemic due to the increase in the number of diagnoses. There are also those who have asked whether there has been some unknown factor improving the IQ of autistic people. The best answer to both questions is NO. But then how can we try to understand this question?

Throughout these years we have observed the existence of different designations and classifications for autism and within autism. If on the one hand we had Kanner's autism, on the other hand we had Asperger's Syndrome, and we would always be talking about autism. But certainly we would also be talking about different profiles of cognitive and intellectual functioning.

Besides, over the years we have seen that studies have been focused more specifically on children and not exactly on adolescents and adults, although this issue has been changing recently. As well as, there has been another bias in the samples contained in many of these studies in which autistic people with cognitive deficit and other associated characteristics have been scarce. As such, it is necessary to proceed with caution in interpreting the results and what is said about the cognitive and intellectual profile in autism. Let alone not fall into the error of generalising.

But it is also important to think about the validity of the instruments themselves to assess IQ and their interconnection with some of the behavioural characteristics of autistic people. For example, the processing and motor speed of some autistic people show a different profile. And some autistic people show a decrease in this speed, which impacts on the performance obtained in certain subtests. In fact, this issue of processing and motor speed is pointed out in some of these subtests. Besides, we can verify that many autistic people also present a more fluid and not so crystallized reasoning and a better visual processing. Many of these IQ evaluation batteries are based on a more crystallised intelligence associated to the knowledge learned at school.

In other words, there are several issues that need to be taken into account and analysed more carefully, both from a research and clinical point of view. Namely, in the use of these same instruments in the assessment process both for diagnosis and also to determine the implementation of certain measures in an academic context or other.

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