Tag Archives: Asperger’s Syndrome

My Autism Diagnosis Story

The fact that I was rediagnosed autisitc, still feels unreal. As I read the report this evening, self-doubt kicked in. The psychologist who diagnosed me, didn’t feel a full developmental interview with my parents was needed, as I had had that done already in 2007 and there were enough reasons to diagnose autism based on the questionnaires my parents filled out. The report from the 2007 diagnostic assessment is gone though, which is one of the reasons for my soon-to-be former psychologist to have removed this diagnosis. I wonder whether my psychiatrist at the community treatment team will acknowledge this diagnosis. I hope she will.

I’m also not sure whether or how to break the news to the Dutch autistic community. As I mentioned on Monday, I was kicked off one autism forum for good, but I am still in others where I’m faced with suspicion. The international community is a lot more accepting.

In honor of my rediagnosis, I am starting the 30 days of autism acceptance, which I found out about last month. It’s mostly on Tumblr, but I can barely use that. The first question asks me to introduce myself, so here goes.

Hi, I’m Astrid. I am 30-years-old – the psych report says I look older,argh – and I live in the Netherlands. I was first formally diagnosed withautism in 2007 and last rediagnosed a few days ago.

The first time I became aware of autism, was sometime in 1998, when its genetic origin was discussed in a news program. Something clicked, but I
didn’t immediately think I’m autistic. I was only eleven or twelve-years-old,
after all.

Then, in June of 2002, my father stormed into my room in the middle of the night. “Are you autistic or something?” he yelled over my loud music. In hindsight, this was the weirdest reason to think a teen is autistic that I’ve ever heard of. After all, having loud music on late at night is pretty normal teenage defiance.

Somehow, something clicked again, and this time I had the Internet and could google autism. For the next nearly two years, I was obsessed with the idea that I may have Asperger’s Syndrome. Asperger’s hadn’t been merged with the other autistic spectrum disorders yet, and to be honest I was quite prejudiced against people with “classic” autism.

In April of 2004, it was again a comment by my father that made me stop thinking I’m an Aspie. There was a newspaper article about highly sensitive persons and the controversy around labeling pretty much everyone. My father offhandly commented that I’m an “asparagus addict”. My high school tutor, who knew about my self-diagnosis, had told my parents I was a “hypochondriac” for it and my father agreed. My mother chimed in that she’d googled Asperger’s and was sure I didn’t have it. That was the end of my “asparagus addiction” for over 2 1/2 years.

In late 2006, my support wroker at the training hoem for the disabled I resided at informed me they were sending me to mental health for an autism assessment. They had already scheduled the first appointment, in fact. I was studying psychology at college at the time and I thought I was doing a good job of it. I couldn’t, in my prejudiced mind, reconcile that with an autism diagnosis. Several months later, once diagnosed, I was happy for it. After all, I’d by this time been quite disappointed on my path in college and my diagnosis helped me get accommodations I wouldn’t otherwise have gotten. It also helped me delay my being kicked out of the training home.

I looked over all my previous diagnoses that were summarized in the report I read this evening. I was diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder at least three times and that doesn’t include the early 2007 diagnosis. After all, the report on that one may’ve disappeared too and I forgot that it may be significant, as it was the only time a psychiatrist diagnosed me. Besides, it was the same mental health agency that my psychiatrist in the community treatment team is part of. If she decides not to acknowledge my rediagnosis this year, I may have to get her to retrieve what’s left of those records.

Mummy Times Two

Dear Psychologist: Why I Believe I’m Autistic (And Why It Matters)

My psychologist wrote the referral letter for my second opinion last Wednesday. Because this second opinion thingy is now becoming real, I have been thinking of why I believe I’m autistic after all – and why it matters. I have tried to explain this quite a few times already, but nobody amongst my staff seems to understand. Because some of my readers just might actually get it, I’m writing it on my blog. I chose to write this in the form of an open letter to my psychologist, but I’m not sure I’ll ever consciously point it out to her.

Dear Psychologist,

You have been telling me ever since you became my responsible clinician in late 2014 that you don’t believe I’m autistic. You initially said brain injury explains my symptoms far better, but you seemed not to care. We needed to treat symptoms, not syndromes, you said. Yet last summer, you changed my diagnosis. And you changed it again. And again. You claim this was at my request. Fair enough, I told you I wasn’t happy with just a borderline personality disorder and adjustment disorder diagnosis and I wanted a second opinion. However, it was you who offered to change my diagnosis to brain injury-related personality change, apparently to avoid me getting a second opinion. I was stupid enough to go along. The further diagnostic changes were solely your responsibility.

Yes, I told you it doesn’t matter whether my diagnosis is borderline personality disorder and adjustment disorder or dependent personality disorder, BPD traits and depressive disorder NOS. To me, neither diagnosis explains why I’ve been having problems all my life. After all, personality disorders first become apparent in a person’s teens or early twenties, not when a person is a young child.

There were – or at least, there should’ve been – many signs of a developmental disability when I was young. Even things that my parents tout as signs of genius, should when combined with the signs that point to delay, signal a developmental disability. Like my ability to calendar calculate. Or my first word. It was “aircraft industry”, echoed from my grnadpa when I was ten-months-old (seven months corrected).

These are cute factoids about me. They don’t necessarily signal autism when taken alone. Then there are the signs that point to delay. I had motor skills delays, but these could be due to dyspraxia or mild cerebral palsy. My parents don’t know whether these were ever labeled as such. I was a toe-walker – still am when stressed. Though I walked on time (at fourteen-months-old), I didn’t sit or roll over without physcal therapy intervention.

My language development was quite advanced. I did reverse pronouns, but my parents say this happened only for a short while. I took many things literally growing up. I also had one word that I’d use obsessively and often out-of-context after another. The psychologist who diagnosed me with Asperger’s in late 2007 brushed this off because I couldn’t come up with examples right then. I can now, but I don’t have the energy to elaborate in English.

My social and emotional development was delayed from a young age on. Even though I didn’t have many meltdowns or temper tantrums until I was about six, I did have my problems. I couldn’t talk to children my age. I had trouble forming friendships. I was even more self-centered than any young child.

When I became aware of my differences, I started acting out. Educational psychologists blamed this on my difficulty adjusting to blindness. What if I’d become aware of my social difference then, too? Even though I didn’t start regularly having temper outbursts till I was about six, I remember head-banging and hand-biting from a younger age. I also had this crawling movement in bed that parents of other kids went to the doctor for when the children were toddlers. Well, let me tell you I did this till I was nineteen.

When I became a teen, I had many more difficulties. One could no longer blame my high IQ, because I was in a high-level high school were 30% of the students were intellectually gifted. Maybe then I did it all because I’m blind, even though no-one at the school for the blind had displayed these behaviors either. Or maybe I was precocious for developing a personality disorder. I guess your logic would go like this.

I could give you dozens more examples of why I believe I’m autistic. I have been thinking on these for the last few days. Many, however, are just too embarrassing to go on my blog.

My parents may not be involved with my care now, but you never asked them participate in a developmental interview. Not that I’d want you to do an autism assessment on me, after all the flawed arguments you’ve spun. You won’t believe that someone with hydrocephalus can be autistic, even though there’s plenty of literature showing that they can. You won’t believe that preemies are more likely to develop autism than children born full-term. I even didn’t bother correcting you when you wrote in my referral letter that I had had a stroke. News flash: an intraventricular hemorrhage, which is the most likely cause of my hydrocephalus but was never ascertained, is not a stroke. I don’t expect you, a psychologist, to know the difference, but then at least stop basing your diagnosis on it.

But you’ll say we should look at symptoms, not syndromes. You’ll say it doesn’t matter for my care whether I’m diagnosed with brain injury, even if it isn’t in my DSM-IV classification, autism or a personality disorder. To be honest, the main reason this whole diagnosis thing is important to me, isn’t care. It’s understanding. I need recognition of my struggles. I need to know I’m not the only one. As much as you hate this, I need something I can google and join support groups for. I’m tired of shooting in the darkness. Granted, care matters too. Personality disorder patients have far fewer self-care problems than autistics and warrant a totally different approach. I wouldn’t mind that approach if it turly worked for me, but it doesn’t. However, I don’t mind having a personality disorder diagnosis along with autism – I had one for nearly three years.

You won’t understand a thing about autistic culture. I won’t explain. I don’t have the spoons for that. (Google the spoon theory if you want to know what I mean, if you even care.) Suffice it to say that autism is not just a disorder – it’s an identity. It’s something, unlike brain injury, that is part of us before we’re old enough to realize it. It’s not a disease – it’s a part of who I am.

Hannah Spannah

A Call to Revive the Concept of “Cousins” in the Autistic Community

Today, I was rejected from a Dutch autistic women’s forum. I had already been kicked off last August for having lost my formal autism diagnosis, but had reapplied because I am in the process of getting a second opinion. Back then, my losing my diagnosis had stirred up a lot of commentary as to why I’d been presenting as autistic for six years – the time that I’d been a member of the forum – if I wasn’t. Well, for one thing, that’s just one professional’s opinion that I’m not autistic, while three others said I am. Not recently, but since when does one lose an autism diagnosis as one ages? However, the fact that the admins doubted I’d get anything but suspicion and hostility if I came back, prompted them to reject me for good. Thankfully, people in other autism groups, especially international ones, were still welcoming and supportive.

Then I read Mel Bagg’s blog post from last month, which was on the subject of autistics and “cousins”. A “cousin” is someone who is not autisitc, but who has some significant experiences that are similar to those experienced by autistics due to a related condition. For example, Mel Baggs tells the story of a person with hydrocephalus who could relate to many of the social and communicative difficulties that autistics experience, but wasn’t autistic. As I have hydrocephalus myself, this struck a chord with me.

Mel Baggs”post is a call to revive the concept of “cousins” in the autistic community. I applaud this, for it’d finally mean I could fully feel in place in the autistic comunity again. I mean, autistic communities used to ask that no neurotypicals join or participate. now they’re asking allistics – a term I’d never heard of but which means non-autistics – to keep out. Though most internatoinal communities who state allistics are not allowed, welcome self-diagnosed autistics, I still feel a bit left out.

Like Mel Baggs says, the autistic community can be very excluisionary. An example is the Dutch forum I got kicked off from. I didn’t know this until I lost my diagnosis, but apparently it has the rule that people who suspect they’re autistic get a year to get a formal diagnosis and if they don’t get it, they’re out. I mentioned this is a women’s forum for a reason, because women have a particularly hard time getting formally diagnosed. The other main Dutch autistic community, open to all genders, doesn’t ask for a formal diagnosis. Another act of exclusion applied by autistic communities is the assumption that Aspies (people with Asperger’s Syndrome) are somehow fundamentally dfferent from other autistics, and subsequently the creation of Aspie-only spaces. Other groups allow “high-functioning” autistics in only. This, obviously, perpetuates the division of the autistic community, which perpetuates discrimination. For example, if Aspies are fundamnetally different from other autistics, people can use the idea that Aspies are not really disabled, which is populated by some, to exclude anyone they see as an Aspie from protection by laws like the ADA. They can also continue advocating for harmful “treatments” against autistic people’s wishes based on the idea that autistics who can advocate for themselves are not “autistic enough”. I don’t say that the autistic community is responsible for discrimination by non-disabled people. I do say that those who exclude some people from the community based on being “not really autistic”, “not autistic enough” or too “low-functioning” or “high-functioning”, do contribute to it.

Back to “cousins”. The criteria for autism keep changing over time. I easily met DSM-IV criteria for Asperger’s Syndrome. I probably meet DSM-5 criteria for autism spectrum disorder too. However, I also have hydrocephalus, which according to my current psychologist, means I can’t be autistic. I believe DSM-IV might agree, though DSM-5 definitely doesn’t. Does the fact that I meet the criteria for an autism spectrum disorder, mean I’m legitimately autistic, or does the fact that I have hydrocephalus, mean I’m not? Really, that shouldn’t matter, if “cousins” are welcomed into the autisitic community again. After all, what counts then is not diagnosis or self-diagnosis, but whether I relate to the lived experience of autistic people. It also means the community can no longer be divided along the lines of stereotypes, formal diagnosis or the lack thereof, or suchlike. Everyone who shares the experience of social and communication problems, is welcome. This in turn means we can form a better front against discrimination, because we no longer fall into traps like being accused of not being disabled enough for protection.

In Between Mental Illness and Wellness

I have often talked about recovery on this blog. Particularly, I have talked about recovery from my disordered eating habits and to a lesser degree self-injury. I wanted to get rid of my binge eating and stop self-injuring. Today, as I gave this some more thought, I took recovery one step further. So what if I stop bingeing and self-injuring? Would that then mean I’d be cured of my mental illness?

Of course, strictly speaking it wouldn’t. However, what if it did? What if I were cured of my mental illnness? After all, I exhibit far fewer destructive and aggressive behaviors than I did years ago. If I were to check mysel finto a mental hospital just as I am now, with no history of acute mental illness, the registrar would laugh at me. I wonder even if I’d be sick enough for outpatient mental health care if I presented with jut the symptoms I’ve been having lately. My overeating may or may not meet the criteria for binge eating disorder or eating disorder NOS. My self-harm does meet the criteria for non-suicidal self-injury, but then again these crteria are quite vague. My mood does not meet the criteria for a disorder. Heck, even when I was suicidal in 2007 and was clearly in need of acute psychiatric care, the only diagnosis the psychiatrist could come up with was adjustment disorder. Adjustment disorder is no longer covered by health insurance. In other words, under DSM-IV, which doesn’t include binge eating or self-injury as diagnoses, I would hardly if at all qualify for psychiatric care.

Of course, I do have borderline personality disorder and Asperger’s Syndrome – I still meet the criteria for these. However, no general practitioner would come up with the idea that I’d have these if I asked them to refer me to mental health services, and the vague referral letter my GP wrote in 2007 would not be enough now. So if I’m not sick enough at first sight for mental health care, am I then recovered? I don’t think so.

Mental health care has in recent years been more and more reduced to mere crisis intervention or other interventions directed at averting people becoming a pain in the neck. Now I won’t say I can’t be a pain in the neck, but a GP writing my referral letter from scratch now would not know. If you aren’t a danger to yourself or others, you most likely won’t get mental health services paid for through insurance. As such, mental health treatment is focused on curing the symptoms of severe mental illness (which is in most cases impossible), whereas recovery is more than that. Recovery, after all, is getting your life back on track.

As a long-term institution patient, I struggle with this. I am relatively well mentally speaking – probably not as well as I describe in the above paragraphs, but still -, but I don’t have a life. When I was admitted to the mental hospital in 2007, I was a university freshman in a new city. Now I’m nearly 30 and have little that could fulfill my life. I have my blog, but that’s about it. It makes me depressed. Not suicidal-type depressed (or should I say “adjustment-disordered”), but it does definitely make me slightly depressed. If I am not sick enough for mental health services and not well enough to get my life back on track without help, then where do I find help in recovering my life?

I hope that outpatient mental health services aren’t really as bad as I now think they are. I can only hope the recovery model still hasn’t been killed by the push for budget cuts. It however makes me sad to read in memoirs of mental health consumers about the recovery model and using mental health services to get your life back on track. After all, I’m afraid you can’t get mental health care for that now even if you’re severely mentally ill like myself.

Extreme Male Theory of Autism #AtoZChallenge

Welcome to day 24 in the A to Z Challenge¬†on autism. Today, I have cheated a little because my word for the X post doesn’t really start with an X. Then again, many bloggers participating in the challenge choose words for their X posts that start with “ex”. Today’s topic is the extreme male theory of autism. I might even try to find something on genetics so that the X and Y chromosomes, which determine a person’s sex, will be involved.

As I said yesterday, autism spectrum disorders are thought to be more common in boys and men than women and girls. Leo Kanner concluded this already in his initial study of autism in 1943, and Hans Asperger initially thought that the condition he described only affects males.

Not only is autism, and particularly Asperger’s Syndrome, still thought to occur more commonly in males than females, but researchers also believe that there is something “male ad then some” about autism. Asperger himself wrote that the boys he described might display something that is akin to a more extreme variant of male intelligence. Simon Baron-Cohen, an autism researcher in Cambridge, has therefore developed a theory by which autism is described as an “extreme male brain”.

Compared to females, even typically developing males have strengths in mathematical and spatial reasoning and weaknesses in social judgment, empaty and imaginiative play. They are also at a higher risk for delayed language development.

Baron-Cohen and his colleagues have developed a model to test their theory which divides the way the brain operates into two major areas: systemizing and empathizing. Systemizing refers to the drive to analyze or construct systems, whereas empathizing refers to the drive to understand other people’s emotions and thoughts.

The extreme male theory of autism views people with autism spectrum disorders ans hyper-systemizers. They are very much interested in non-human, rule-bound systems. This might seem like an idea that only applies to higher-functioning autistics, but it is thougth that in lower-functioning autisticcs, hypersystemizing might show itself in for example collecting and organizing buttons or suchlike.

On the other hand, autistic people would show weaknesses in social judgment, such as figuring out social cues, understanding what another person is feeling and grasping social hierarchies.

There is a theory that says that higher testosterone (male sex hormone) levels while in the womb lead to a more male-like profile on the systemizing-empathizing dichotomy, ie. higher systemizing scores and lower empathizing scores. Lower testosterone levels in the womb are thought to lead to a more empathizing-oriented brain style. This however has not been proven to explain autism. Further research in this area is needed.

Do you want to know whether you’re more of an empathizer or a systemizer? There is a test which gives you a score on both of these scales. My own empathizing score was 20 while my systemizing score was 30. Both are below-average.

Women and Girls with Autism #AtoZChallenge

Welcome to day 23 in the A to Z Challenge on autism. Today, I discuss autism as it maniffests itself differently depending on the autistic person’s gender. I particularly focus on women and girls with autism. IN tomorrow’s post, I will discuss autism as extreme male behavior.

It used to be thought that autism, and Asperger’s Syndrome in particular, is far more common in males than in females. Four to even eight times as many boys were thought to have Asperger’s than girls. In recent years however, there has been more attention paid to the ways in which autism spectrum disorders manifest themselves differently in girls and women.

There is little scientific research focused specificaly on females with autism. However, anecdotal evidence suggests that females with autism display the following characteristics, which differ from males with autism:

  • Better social imitation skills.

  • A desire to interact directly with people.

  • Shyness or passivity as opposed to being active but odd.

  • Better imagination.

  • Better language development.

  • (Special) interests focused on animals or people rather than objects.

Stereotypes about what is considered typical male or female behavior commonly hinder the diagnosis of females with autism. For example, characteristics such as shyness and oversensitivity are often seen as typical female characteristics rather than signs of an autism spectrum disorder. Another example is a girl who plays with dolls and is hence thought to display appropriate pretend play. On closer observation though, it is found that she plays with the dolls stereotypically.

Girls and women with autism usually also develop inventive strategies to hide their autistic tendencies. This often leads them to burn out or get depressed, which is then seen as the reason for their inability to cope rather than a consequence. There is finally also a bias towards diagnosing certain disorders in certain genders. As a result, many women with autism or ADHD end up with a diagnosis of for example borderline personality disorder because of their hypersensitivity.

Fortunately, authors like Rudy Simone (author of AsperGirls) internationally and Henny Struik in the Netherlands have raised increasing awareness of the fact that women too can be autistic and that their behavioral characteristics often differ from those in men with autism. I was honored to have been quoted (only a few lines) in Henny Struik’s book and I love AsperGirls. I hope that books like these will reach health professionals and researchers so that diagnostic tests for autism are adapted to meet the specific challenges of diagnosing females.

Mental Illness and Autism #AtoZChallenge

Welcome to day thirteen in the A to Z Challenge. I am late once again to write my post, because I have still not mastered the skill of planning ahead and I was out of town all day.

Today’s post is on mental illness. Autism, of course, is not a mental illness; it’s a developmental disability. However, many people with autism experience mental health problems or mental illness. In fact, studies show that as many as 65% of people with Asperger’s Syndrome have a co-exisitng psychiatric disorder.

Anxiety and depression are the most common mental health problems experienced by people on the autistic spectrum. It may be hard to diagnose these problems because of autistic people’s different ways of expressing and connecting to emotions. For example, I once read about a boy with Asperger’s Syndrome who suddenly stopped launching into lengthy monologues about his topic of interest. People thought that he was doing better, because, after all, he was displaying fewer autistic symptoms. On closer observation though, the boy was found to be severely depressed.

Autistic people might display a number of symptoms that indicate they are suffering from comorbid depression or anxieyt. For example, they may become completely withdrawn, may experience an increase in obsessional behaviors, or may have suicidal tendencies. Paranoia, aggression or substance abuse are also indicators that the person with autism is experiencing mental illness.

Treatments that are effective for anxiety, depression or obsessive-compulsive disordeer in the general population, often are also effective for higher-functioning individuals with autism experiencing these symptoms. However, it is important that psychiatrists be aware of the person’s autism spectrum disorder. For example, if a person is experiencing depression because of loneliness, they may need to be provided with social skills training in addition to cognitive-behavioral therapy or medication.

In the above paragraphs, I mainly talked about mental health problems in people with Asperger’s Syndrome or high-functioning autism. Of course, autistic people with an intellectual disability or those who are non-verbal, can also experience mental illness. In fact, it is thought that mental illness is more common in people with an intellectual disability than in the general population. In people with an intellectuall disability, it is hard to diagnose depression and anxiety. Depression may often be misdiagnosed as cognitive decline or dementia. People with an intellectual disability may show aggression as a symptom of depression too. This may lead to them being misdiagnosed and not getting adequate treatment.

Kanner and Asperger: Two Autism Pioneers #AtoZChallenge

Hi readers, it’s Monday again! Welcome to another day in the A to Z Challenge, in which I focus on autism. Today, I will discuss the two autism pioneers, Leo Kanner and Hans Asperger.

The term “autism” comes form the Greek word “autos”, meaning “self”, and describes people who are particularly withdrawn. The term has been in use for about 100 years. It was first used by Eugen Bleuler, a Swiss psychiatrist, to describe a subset of symptoms of schizophrenia.

Leo Kanner was born in 1894 in a small village in Austria-Hungary. He came to the United States and became a child psychiatrist at Johns Hopkins University. In 1943, he published a paper called Autistic Disturbances of Affective Contact. In this paper, he described eleven children who had a strong desire for aloneness and obsessive insistence on sameness.

Also from Austria-Hungary, Hans Asperger was born in 1906. In 1944, he published a description of “autistic psychopathy”. Children with “autistic psychopathy” were described as displaying a lack of empathy, little ability to form friendships, one-sided conversations, intense absorption in a special interest, and clumsy movement.

Unlike Kanner’s, Asperger’s work remained largely unknown. In 1981, Lorna Wing did write about Asperger’s Syndrome and thereby challenged Kanner’s original definiton of autism. Asperger’s work was eventually translated into English in 1991.

Despite common belief, Kanner’s and Asperger’s disorders as originally described were quite similar. Kanner’s original children were mostly highly intelligent. One reason that Asperger highlighted this, calling his children “little professors”, while Kanner didn’t, might be that Asperger resided in then occupied Austria. Given that children with disabilities were often killed by the Nazis, Asperger might’ve had a motive to present the children he described in as positive terms as possible.

Jobs for Autistic People #AtoZChallenge

Welcome to day ten in the A to Z Challenge on autism. Today’s post is on employment and jobs for autistic people. I personally do not have a paid job, but many autistic people, even those with co-existing intellectual disabilities, can be successfully employed. They do need to choose jobs that utilize their strengths and their employer needs to be willing to accommodate them.

Already in 1999, Temple Grandin wrote an excellent article on choosing the right job for someone with autism or Asperger’s Syndrome. She explains that autistic and Asperger’s people usually have very poor working memory and cannot multitask. While some people are visual thinkers, like herself, some autistic people are more verbal thinkers, being good at math and/or memorizing facts. In the tables attached to the article, Grandin lists jobs that are bad for autistic people, jobs that are good for visually-thinking autistic people, jobs that are good for verbal thinkers with autism, and jobs that are good for non-verbal or intellectually disabled autistics.

Of course, being able to perform certain tasks does not guarantee being able to get a jbo. In today’s society, increasing demands are placed on social skills and flexibility, precisely the skills which autistics invariably have difficulty with. Many countries, including the Netherlands and the United States, have laws prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of disability. However, a person must prove that they are otherwise qualified for the job and that they are being discriminated against based on their disability.

How many people with autism are employed? This is not precisely known. It is however thought that fewer autistic people are employed than people in most other disability groups. For example, a study cited here says that only 32.5% of young adults with autism spectrum disorders worked for pay. The National Autistic Society in the UK presents an even grimmer statistic: according to them, only 15% of autistic people are employed full-time. Given that the benefits system in the UK is quite strict on people with mental disabilities (and it’s probably worse in the U.S.), 51% of autistic people have spent time without employment or benefits.

Intelligence and Autism #AtoZChallenge

Welcome to another day of the A to Z Challenge on autism. Today, I will discuss autism and intelligence.

First, what is intelligence? Intelligence is generally defined as a person’s overall cognitive ability across a number of domains, such as verbal comprheension, perceptual reasoning, working memory, etc., as measured by standardized IQ tets. Examples of IQ tests include the Stanford-Binet test used mostly in the U.S. and the Wechsler scales used more in Europe.

An average IQ score is 100. IQ follows the bell curve by which, the further a score deviates from average, the fewer people have this score. The standard deviation used on IQ tests is 15 on the Wechsler scales. This means that an IQ of 70, which is defined as the cut-off for intellectual disability, is two standard deviations below the norm. Approximately 2% of the population have an IQ below 70.

On IQ tests, the score is usually divided in a verbal commmponent and a non-verbal or performance component. Autistic people commonly have a gap between their verbal and non-verbal intelligence quotient. Some non-verbal autistic people show a dramatic increase in their IQ scores once they learn to type. Other people, usually diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, have a high verbal IQ but a lower or even below-average non-verbal IQ.

It used to be thought that autistic people usually had a low IQ or intellectual disability. Current estimates are that approximately 40% of children with autism spectrumd isorder also have an intellectual disability. Children diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome by definition do not have an IQ below 70. However, some people with Asperger’s score as borderline intellectual functioning (IQ between 70 and 85) and may benefit from services for people with an intellectual disability.

IQ may be a predictor of how capable a person will be of becoming independent. However, other factors play a role too, such as adaptive functioning. Young children with Asperger’s usually do not have problems with self-help skills or adaptive funcitoning (other than that required for social interaction). However, as children mature, more problems with adaptive functioning in general may arise. I unfortunately have never had an assessment of adaptive functioning, so I don’t know how I’d score. However, people are usually surprised at my ability to use the computer but not, for example, cut up my own food or take proper care of my personal hygiene without prompting.