Sunday, July 9, 2017

Increasing Intelligence in Autism

 
For weeks, I have been setting aside autism research to study once I had the time and the concentration needed to read and understand these articles. Since Alex is feeling better, and my to-do list is getting shorter, I delved into some of those research articles I had put away for future reference. Yesterday, I ran across an interesting article published online in Spectrum on May 13th of this year entitled, “Many children with autism get significantly smarter over time.” [To read this article, please click here.] Written by Katie Moisse, this article summarizes research done by Professor Marjorie Solomon and her colleagues at University of California, Davis, MIND Institute. This research was presented in San Francisco at the 2017 International Meeting for Autism Research held in May.

Using data from the Autism Phenome Project, a long-term study of children with autism, Professor Solomon and her research team looked at the IQ scores of 20 girls and 82 boys diagnosed with autism. Comparing these children’s IQ scores at 2 to 3 years of age to their later scores between ages of 6-8, the researchers found that IQ scores were not stable in these children. In typical children, IQ scores tend to stabilize around the age of 5. However, half of the children with autism in this study had increased IQ scores between the ages of 2 and 8. These findings sharply contrast a 2013 study that found IQ scores varied little from childhood until middle age in people with autism.

Professor Solomon and her colleagues divided the children with autism into four groups. First, the “high challenges” group, which made up 27% of the children in the study, started with IQ scores around 44, and these scores dropped over time to an average of 36.

The second group made up 18% of the study group; named the “challenges” group, they averaged IQ scores of 62, which remained stable over time.

A third group, the “lesser challenges,” made up 22% of the children studied. This group started with IQ scores around 100, considered average intelligence, and their scores improved to about 111. These children showed the most improvement in autism severity over time, as well.

The fourth group, which comprised approximately one third of the children in the study, was called the “changers.” These children started with below average IQ scores (around 65), but they made noticeable progress with time, averaging later IQ scores just below 100. In addition, the changers reflected the most progress in verbal ability over time.

In addition to studying the changes in IQ scores, the researchers noted different patterns of progress regarding communication skills, autism severity, and behaviors. Behaviors were specified as internalization, such as anxiety, and externalization, such as hyperactivity. Over time, all four groups––high challenges, challenges, lesser challenges, and changers––exhibited fewer negative behaviors. Professor Solomon notes that this study should encourage families with autism, stating, “…over one half of individuals are seeing big IQ gains over time, and all are seeing internalizing and externalizing behaviors drop off.”

Certainly, as a parent of a child with autism, I find the results of this study hopeful, not only because these children’s IQ scores increase, but also because their negative behaviors decrease. However, I’m also curious about the connections between improvements in IQ scores, communication skills, and behavior. Since IQ tests often tend to be related to verbal skills, perhaps as the children’s communication skills improve, their IQ scores more accurately reflect their true intelligence. Maybe when their behavior improves, they can better focus on learning and testing, which could account for their higher IQ scores. Moreover, I wonder what positive effects various therapies (speech, behavioral, occupational, etc.) might have upon these children, reducing their autism severity and improving their communication, behavior, and ability to learn. These children might not be actually getting smarter; they just gain the skills they need to show how much they really do know.

Nonetheless, any improvements, whatever their cause, are reasons to celebrate. As we have seen with Alex, the better he can manage anxiety, the easier the words can flow to express what he’s thinking and feeling, and he can then demonstrate what knowledge he has been storing in that amazing mind of his. Hopefully, this research will remind people never to underestimate the potential of children with autism because with time they do, indeed, get better.

“But there is a spirit within people, the breath of the Almighty within them, that makes them intelligent.” Job 32:8

1 comment:

Celeste Thompson said...

Pam this is very interesting research, very encouraging as well... thanks for sharing your thoughts!