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The matrix of autism

Autistic children are doubly stigmatized. On the one hand, they are often dismissed as low functioning or mentally retarded, especially if they have poor speaking skills as many do. Yet when autistics do show exceptional abilitiesuncanny visual discrimination and memory for detail, for exampletheir flashes of brilliance are marginalized as aberrations, mere symptoms of their higher order cognitive deficit. They often earn a dubious promotion to idiot savant.

The theoretical justification for this view is that prototypical autistic skills are not true intelligence at all, but really just low-level perceptual abilities. Indeed, in this view autistics are missing the big picture because they are obsessed with the detail.

But is this true" Are autistics really incapable of abstraction and integration and other high-level thinking" Surprisingly, given how pervasive this view of autism is, it has never been rigorously tested. But a team of scientists in Canada suspected that the tests themselves might be baised and decided to explore the idea in the lab.

Led by psychologist Laurent Mottron of the University of Montreal, the team gave both autistic kids and normal kids two of the most popular IQ tests used in schools. The two tests are both highly regarded, but they are very different. The so-called WISC relies heavily on language, which is why the psychologists were suspicious of it. The other, known as the Ravens Progressive Matrices, is considered the preeminent test of whats called fluid intelligence, that is, the ability to infer rules, to set and manage goals, to do high-level abstractions. Basically the test presents arrays of complicated patterns with one missing, and test takers are required to choose the one that would logically complete the series. The test demands a good memory, focused attention and other executive skills, butunlike the WISCit doesnt require much language.

The idea was that the autistic kids true int
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Contact: Jesse Erwin
jerwin@psychologicalscience.org
202-783-2077
Association for Psychological Science
3-Aug-2007


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