People with autism show significant increases in IQ as they mature, but development issues remain

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Image: Liz Zabel/The Gazette

People with autism show significant improvements in cognitive ability from age 12 to 23 years, but their autism traits remain stable over this time, according to a new study.

Tests of intelligence adjust for age, so intelligence quotients are generally expected to remain stable throughout a person’s lifetime. But the participants’ IQs increased with age even as their autism traits remained stable, the researchers found.

The 35 participants whose parents reported a regression in language skills early in childhood showed the largest increase in IQ, gaining about 13 IQ points on average, compared with about 7 in the whole group. The work appeared 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,” she says. “Then something happened to perturb this trajectory — and also to cause autism.” Then throughout adolescence, she says, these participants gradually returned to their earlier developmental trajectory.

Related article:  Autism war rages: Is it a medical condition or 'neurodiversity'?

In this way, she says, early regression may mark a unique autism trajectory, distinct from those of children with slower but steadier cognitive development.

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