Dr. Laurent Mottron is the leader of the Mottron-Gernsbacher-Dawson team that recently released a study in which autistic and non-autistic students were given two tests, the the WISC, which relies heavily on language, and the Raven's Progressive Matrices, in which the test taker has to select the missing pattern which would logically complete the series. The results, trumpeted across the Neurodiversity blogosphere, indicated that although autistic students tested in the lower intellectual range using the WISC test many did well on the Raven's test, presumably demonstrating that autistic students, or at least the ones selected by the Mottron team, had intellectual abilities not revealed by the WISC test which requires substantial language ability.
Given that the test was administered by Dr. Mottron's team with the autistic participants diagnosed at the same health facility where Dr. Mottron has spent his career studying high functioning autistic persons I have some reservations about the test, how it was administered and what it really means for autistic persons other than those chosen by the Mottron team. And the fundamental premise of this approach seems misguided. If you don't do well on one type of test, try another, keep trying until you find one that you can do well on , try one that doesn't involve something like ... oh ... understanding language.
Dr. Mottron's career has been spent studying autistic savants, persons with Aspergers and High Functioning autistic individuals as his study abstracts expressly state. He publishes as many as 3-4 such studies on high functioning autistic persons in any given year, year after year. I have been unable to locate, using Google Scholar, any reports where Dr. Mottron bothered himself with low functioning autistic subjects like my son Conor.
The good Doctor is also an active opponent of ABA intervention for autistic children. He has actually appeared before the Canadian Senate committee examining autism funding in Canada to oppose public funding of ABA intervention for autistic children. Dr. Mottron also provided an affidavit in support of his colleague Michelle Dawson when she applied for intervenor status before the Supreme Court of Canada to oppose the families in the Auton case who were seeking to require the BC government to include ABA treatment for their children under that province's medicare programs. Ms Dawson is herself a high functioning autistic person who has been active in opposing ABA and in criticizing parents and other activists seeking to obtain ABA interventions for their own children. Objective they are not.
Dr. Gernsbacher, the third member of this research trio, has publicly asserted that autistic persons like Ms Dawson should be consulted in researching autism issues. She has, to my knowledge, never addressed any resulting objectivity issues arising from subject participation in such research and whether researchers with such strong personal agendas can truly deliver an objective study or analysis of the issues on which they appear as public, legal and political advocates. Nor has she explained how low functioning autistic persons with limited understanding of language could be consulted with respect to such research. Does she assume that someone like Ms Dawson, who is very intelligent and has excellent communication skills, shares the same real world life challenges as a low functioning autistic person with limited understanding of language? Can someone who is at the very high functioning end of the autism spectrum of disorders communicate the perspective of someone who can barely communicate if at all because of an almost total lack of language capacity? Does it matter?
It seems particularly odd to me that Dr. Gernsbacher could assert that a high functioning autistic person should be consulted in research designed to measure autistic intelligence but not low functioning autistic persons. Of course, the lower functioning persons, like my son, would not be able to engage in such discussions because of his limited understanding of language. Presumably Dr. Gernsbacher believes that a person with a high functioning disorder on the autism spectrum can speak for someone who has a similar but different disorder on the low functioning end of the autism spectrum. It is not a position which I would endorse as the parent of a low functioning autistic child.
Language is one of the most striking characteristics of the human species. While many other animal species communicate with each other only humans have the capacity for such complex, abstract and adaptable communication. It is this communication capacity that has allowed us to become what we are today. It allows us to understand the world around us and to organize our societies, develop our sciences and medicines, govern ourselves by laws and understand the nuances of life through our arts. It is my son's lack of ability to comprehend language that makes it so difficult to communicate with him about almost every aspect of daily life. It is why a behavior based intervention like ABA is so critical in allowing us to communicate with Conor, the same ABA that Dr. Mottron and Ms. Dawson have publicly advocated against in Canada.
Conor has demonstrated intelligence many times. He routinely surprises us with his skills with computers and video equipment and his recognition of places and locations as we travel in the family car. But he has a very serious lack of ability to comprehend and communicate with language, written or spoken. It is that lack of ability in that critical area that renders him low functioning. The real world is not a Raven's Progressive Matrices test. Real World functioning requires understanding and ability with language to develop elaborate systems of thought and organization and to communicate the existence of basic dangers in daily life. The Real World is a difficult and unforgiving test. The Real World does not always allow for "do overs" if your child, lacking in language and understanding of life's complexities, wanders into automobile traffic or other such dangers. Language counts. Any measure of intelligence which excludes understanding of language does not itself pass the Real World test.