The Autism Matrix

Just a thought this morning, but I think the “autism spectrum” would be better characterized as a “matrix” with intelligence running along one axis and impairment on the other.

We can divide this into four useful quadrants, representing high IQ & high impairment, high IQ & low impairment, low IQ & high impairment, and low IQ and low impairment.

Of course these are not entirely unrelated measures–the impairment that causes autism can also cause low IQ, but it makes a functional distinction because different quadrants suffer different challenges and limitations.

The traditional distinction was between “autism” and “asperger’s,” with asperger’s generally reserved for the smarter, higher functioning kids. Asperger’s has been dropped as a diagnosis due to this distinction being not the most useful–there are high-functioning dumb kids with autism and low-functioning smart kids. (And adults.)

Just a little thought.


7 thoughts on “The Autism Matrix

  1. To get diagnosed with Asperger’s, you only had to answer a few dozen yes/no questions. In each case, it was obvious which answer would increase your score. This is obviously unreliable.

    In our time, an autism diagnosis gives a lot of leverage to parents of badly behaved schoolchildren. It certainly becomes harder to suspend them, and many therapies are available that advertise improvement (given what we know about long-term impacts of educational/social programs, I doubt their effectiveness very much).

    On the other hand, a child that shows some behavioral abnormalities without disturbing lessons or getting bad grades is less likely to be diagnosed. What status would he/she gain from being labeled autistic, after all?

    Lastly: Most autists have no mental “superpowers” that could offset their disadvantages. Throughout their life, they’ll thus be at the bottom of social hierarchies, with few if any friends and poor chances of achieving meaningful employment. Some of their obscure interests (like memorizing pi digits) can simply be explained by being lonely. If you were locked in solitary confinement day in, day out, you’d also start doing weird things…

    Of course, media will only mention heartwarming cases, akin to the Down Syndrome child that managed to graduate from university (in an easy subject, with special allowances), even though they are not at all representative.


  2. Shouldn’t there be an autism scale, just like there is an IQ scale? (Well, to be logically consistent, the IQ scale would then be called the “stupidity scale”)

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Scott Alexander of Slate Star Codex recently looked at IQ and autism as well recently – albeit addressing a different topic

    The paradox:

    1. The genes that increase risk of autism are disproportionately also genes that increase intelligence, and vice versa

    2. People diagnosed with autism are less intelligent on average

    He doesn’t provide a firm explanation, but interesting theories.


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