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November 17, 2010  

 

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.

 
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