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New Study Finds That Increase in IQ Scores May Not Affect Autism Traits

While the intelligence scores of people with autism increase significantly from 12 to 23 years old, their autism traits are not affected, according to a new study from researchers in England. The study, which tracked young autistic people in London, also found that young adults with autism who attend mainstream schools have better social skills at 23 than those who attend specialized schools. Although the study did not address why this is the case, previous research has linked being in a mainstream classroom to improved academic performance, regardless of IQ. This may be because mainstream schools offer students with autism a richer social environment in which they can learn to adapt to the challenges of a neurotypical world, according to Emily Simonoff, professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at King’s College, London. Simonoff and her team studied 158 adolescents enrolled in the Special Needs and Autism Project, a 2006 initiative that seeks to identify undiagnosed individuals with autism in the South Thames region of London. Simonoff and her colleagues assessed the participants IQs at ages 12, 16, and 23, and asked the participants parents to rate their children’s autism traits using the Social Responsiveness Scale. The researchers found that the participants’ IQs increased with age, even as their autism traits remained stable.

According to a report by Spectrum News.org, the 35 participants whose parents reported a regression in language skills showed the largest IQ increase, gaining about 13 points on average. The study’s findings were published in December in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.

“The most plausible explanation to me is that children who regress are those whose otherwise underlying trajectory was one of normal-high development in terms of cognition,” Simonoff said. “Then something happened to perturb this trajectory — and also to cause autism.” She added that throughout adolescence, these participants gradually return to their earlier developmental trajectory. Some researchers reject the theory that regression marks a subgroup of children with autism, saying that the onset of autism traits simply looks different in every child. Uta Frith, a professor of cognitive development at the University of London, said there are “ social factors involved in IQ testing, and younger autistic children may not have learned yet what it is that the tester wants them to do.” She added that early regression “may have led to lower IQ estimates at first wave testing in this subgroup.” Source: https://www.spectrumnews.org/news/increase-in-intelligence-scores-may-not-alter-autism-traits/

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