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.

Related article:  Gut bacteria transfers could help relieve autism symptoms, research shows

“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.

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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