The Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders has recently published the paper The Level and Nature of Autistic Intelligence Revisited (Bölte, Dziobek, and Poustka, 2009, hereafter referred to as Bölte). Bölte is in response to the paper The Level and Nature of Autistic Intelligence (Dawson, Soulières, Gernsbacher, and Mottron, 2007, hereafter referred to as
The alarm bells regarding Bölte’s motivations are set off in its introduction, during a discussion about the various merits of the Wechsler Intelligence Scales (WIS) and the Raven’s Progressive Matrices (RPM). Bölte claims that Dawson “suggests that while RPM do allow fair IQ testing in autism, the WIS do not, which would dispute the utility of the WIS as the standard IQ measure for clinical or research purposes.” The problem with this claim is that I have been through
Which leads to the troubling aspect of Bölte’s main conclusion: Bölte’s facts be damned.
Bölte’s authors summarize their findings in the following way: “in conclusion, the claim that intelligence has been underestimated in autism seems somewhat premature.” They base this conclusion primarily on two pieces of evidence from their own study: 1. the average difference in WIS and RPM scores for autistic individuals, while significant, is less in Bölte than it is Dawson; and 2. in Bölte (unlike in Dawson), the difference in WIS and RPM scores for autistic individuals is noticeable only for those individuals with WIS scores less than 85.
Neither of these pieces of evidence supports the Bölte conclusion—in fact, exactly the opposite.
That the average difference in WIS and RPM scores for autistic individuals is less in Bölte than it is in Dawson is certainly interesting and warrants further investigation—it would be nice to obtain an accurate reading upon this number—but the far more important piece of information is that the difference continues to prevail in Bölte, and is statistically significant. So I would like to pose a question: just exactly how many times will
And if that were not bad enough, the other piece of evidence offered in support of Bölte’s summary, namely that the difference in
Autism research never ceases to amaze me. I am told again and again that the purpose of such research is to help us better understand the autistic individuals within our midst and to allow us better to serve their needs. But here, on an occasion when the data (from two studies, no less) points to an instance where we have been clearly misunderstanding the characteristics of autistic individuals, the response from the autism research community seems to be a languorous effort to tamp those findings down, a ho-hum call to continue on as we were.
And for Bölte, et al., although they have my thanks for having made the effort and for having been thorough in the reporting of methods and findings, my suggestion would be that for their next paper, before they move on to writing the conclusion, they should probably take the time to read over their own results.