Autism spectrum is a developmental disorder that can affect a person’s ability to communicate, emotionally regulate, and process sensory information. Some experts believe that people with high-functioning autism have above-average IQs, while others think there’s no link between the two.
Let’s take a deep dive into both autism and IQ to learn more about this tentative link.
In What Areas Can Autism Affect a Person’s Day-to-Day Life?
Although people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are often described as ‘high-functioning’ or ‘low-functioning’, these aren’t technically medical diagnoses; they’re simply terms used to describe how well a person with ASD can carry out certain tasks.
That’s because ASD can significantly impair a person’s ability to communicate and interact with others, and the extent of that impairment varies from person to person. Let’s explore some ways in which ASD can affect a person’s day-to-day life:
According to the NIDCD, children with ASD have a few key challenges with their verbal communication:
- Rigid and repetitive language. A child with ASD might say the same sentence over and over or use words that are not appropriate in the context of a conversation.
- Uneven or delayed development of speech and language skills. Often, children with ASD will develop speech skills later than their neurotypical peers. They might also have difficulty using and understanding nonverbal communication, such as body language or tone of voice.
- Echolalia. This is when a person with ASD repeats back what someone else has said, either immediately after hearing it or at a later time. It’s often considered a form of self-stimulation or coping mechanism.
- High-pitched or flat intonation. A person with ASD might speak in a monotone voice or have a pitch that is higher or lower than what is considered ‘normal’. For some, this is because of certain speech patterns they’ve seen in a favorite television show or movie.
Levels of Communication Impairment
According to Autism Speaks, people with ASD are usually placed into one of three categories when they’re being diagnosed. We call this the DSM-5 Autism Diagnostic Criteria.
Level 1: Requiring Support
- Can communicate verbally, but with some difficulty
- Will often respond to others in atypical ways
- Might have trouble starting or sustaining a conversation
- Struggles with back-and-forth banter or making small talk
Level 2: Requiring Substantial Support
- Communicates using single words or brief phrases
- Uses markedly odd non-verbal communication
- Has reduced or abnormal responses to social cues from others
Level 3: Requiring Very Substantial Support
- Nonverbal, or with very little intelligible speech
- Rarely initiates social interactions
- Communicates solely out of necessity
When someone with ASD is considered ‘high-functioning’, they’re typically at Level 1: able to speak in full sentences, carry on a conversation, and understand nonverbal communication relatively well. However, they might still have some challenges with the items listed above.
Humans are social creatures by nature. We crave interactions and relationships with others. When those interactions don’t go the way we want or expect them to, it can be very confusing and upsetting.
For both children and adults with ASD, social difficulty manifests itself in a few key ways:
- Trouble making and keeping friends
- Poor eye contact or unusual body language
- Inability to understand personal space boundaries or trouble reading social cues
- Unusual obsessions or fixations on certain topics, people, or objects
- Intense reactions to changes in routine
These challenges can make it hard for someone with ASD to function in a ‘typical’ school or work environment. They might have difficulty following along with conversations, participating in group projects, or understanding social hierarchies.
While people with mild ASD tend to fare well as independent people, those needing significant assistance tend to struggle when it comes to the day-to-day tasks of living.
This includes things like:
- Self-care (e.g., hygiene, dressing, eating)
- Budgeting and money management
- Time management and organization
- Household chores and maintenance
For some people with ASD, they might be able to do all of these things independently. But for others, they might need assistance from a parent, spouse, roommate, or caregiver. Every person’s diagnosis is incredibly individual.
Have you ever seen a child or adult walking through a busy store with noise-cancelling headphones? It’s often a precaution that people with ASD use to avoid sensory overload. Their senses are processing information more intensely than the average person, so a loud noise or bright light can be incredibly overwhelming.
People with ASD also tend to be very emotionally sensitive. They might have a harder time understanding and processing their emotions, or they might have difficulty understanding the emotions of others and displaying empathy.
Resistance to Change
Finally, the lives of people with ASD are often disrupted by change, whether it’s a change in routine, location, or relationships. This is because people with ASD often thrive on predictability and routine. When something disrupts that routine, it can cause a lot of anxiety and distress.
Most, if not all of these challenges, come from slight abnormalities that develop in a child’s brain.
What Parts of the Brain are Affected by Autism?
Though the neurochemistry and biology of ASD are not fully understood, we do know that ASD is a neurodevelopmental disorder, which means that it affects certain key areas of the brain:
- The hippocampus is enlarged, which affects both learning and memory development
- The amygdala differs in people with ASD, heavily influencing emotions
- The cortex tends to have a different pattern of thickness between people with ASD and neurotypical individuals
- The cerebellum has a smaller amount of gray matter in people with ASD, which affects cognition, social ability, movement, and motor skills
All of these subtle differences combined are what result in the challenges and symptoms experienced by people with ASD. But how does their IQ fare in all of this?
Types of IQ
Intelligence quotient, or IQ, is a measurement of cognitive ability. It’s often used as a way to identify giftedness or special needs in children. There are two main types of IQ tests:
Performance IQ tests nonverbal intelligence; in other words, how well a person can solve problems using visual and practical reasoning. It tests spatial processing skills, attention to detail, and hand-eye coordination skills.
Verbal IQ assesses a person’s vocabulary and ability to solve problems with language. It also measures verbal reasoning, comprehension of verbal information, and the ability to express knowledge through spoken language.
Children with ASD typically score lower on verbal IQ tests than they do on performance IQ tests, but it’s important to remember that IQ is just one measure of cognitive ability; it doesn’t tell the whole story. So what does it tell, exactly?
Is IQ related to the range of function of someone with autism?
Great question. Although a person’s IQ is a fairly telling measure of their cognitive ability, the function level of a person with ASD doesn’t correlate perfectly with their IQ.
Why is this the case? People with ASD can be incredibly gifted in cognition; in fact, 44 percent of people with ASD score in the ‘average’ to ‘above average’ category, and some are identified as ‘twice exceptional’ (highly gifted whilst living with a disability).
The issue arises when people score ‘above average’ in their IQ test, but they still struggle with activities of daily living.
An individual’s level of functioning can be more impacted by underlying mental health issues, such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), substance abuse, gastrointestinal issues, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), depression, and anxiety, than by IQ.
Takeaway Summary: Does IQ Indicate Range of Function?
It’s important to remember that IQ is just one measure of cognitive ability, and it can be quite misleading. Just because someone has a high IQ doesn’t necessarily mean they function well in society or at home.
The best way to understand your own or someone else’s range of function is to consider all aspects of their life, from daily living skills and social skills to communication abilities and interests. IQ is only one piece of an intricate puzzle.
If you are ready to work with the best ABA therapy provider in New York, New Jersey or Indiana, give us a call at (732) 402-0297. Our dedicated team is ready to help and we will treat you like family.