U. WASHINGTON (US) — Many children with autism spectrum disorders have greater academic abilities than previously thought.
Researchers say that 90 percent of high-functioning children with autism spectrum disorders show a discrepancy between their IQ score and their performance on reading, spelling, and math tests.
“Academic achievement 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,” says Annette Estes, research assistant professor at the University of Washington.
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 autistic children 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. Most of the children in Estes’ study—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 says. “Some scored higher and some scored lower than what their IQ score would predict.”
Of the children tested, 18 of 30 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.
Estes also found a link between social skills and academic ability in school. Specifically, children who had higher social skills at age 6, including introducing themselves to others and a willingness to compromise and cooperate, had better word reading skills at age 9.
The children have participated in this study since they were 3 or 4 years old, when they were diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders by the staff at the UW’s Autism Center.
The study did not look at the students’ performance in school, a next step for the researchers.
“We need to know if children with autism spectrum disorders who have these higher-than-expected scores are able to demonstrate their abilities in the classroom in terms of grades and other measures of success,” Estes says. “This could influence placement in classes that adequately challenge them.”
The children who scored below their predicted level may be struggling in certain subjects. “We want to get them the assistance they need to reach their potentials.”
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