Original Paper

Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders

, Volume 41, Issue 8, pp 1044-1052

First online:

Discrepancies Between Academic Achievement and Intellectual Ability in Higher-Functioning School-Aged Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

  • Annette EstesAffiliated withDepartment of Speech and Hearing Sciences, University of WashingtonUniversity of Washington Autism Center Email author 
  • , Vanessa RiveraAffiliated withUniversity of Washington Autism Center
  • , Matthew BryanAffiliated withDepartment of Biostatistics, University of Washington
  • , Philip CaliAffiliated withUniversity of Washington Autism CenterDepartment of Educational Psychology, University of Washington
  • , Geraldine DawsonAffiliated withAutism SpeaksDepartment of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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Academic achievement patterns and their relationships with intellectual ability, social abilities, and problem behavior are described in a sample of 30 higher-functioning, 9-year-old children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Both social abilities and problem behavior have been found to be predictive of academic achievement in typically developing children but this has not been well studied in children with ASD. Participants were tested for academic achievement and intellectual ability at age 9. Problem behaviors were assessed through parent report and social functioning through teacher report at age 6 and 9. Significant discrepancies between children’s actual academic achievement and their expected achievement based on their intellectual ability were found in 27 of 30 (90%) children. Both lower than expected and higher than expected achievement was observed. Children with improved social skills at age 6 demonstrated higher levels of academic achievement, specifically word reading, at age 9. No relationship was found between children’s level of problem behavior and level of academic achievement. These results suggest that the large majority of higher-functioning children with ASD show discrepancies between actual achievement levels and levels predicted by their intellectual ability. In some cases, children are achieving higher than expected, whereas in others, they are achieving lower than expected. Improved social abilities may contribute to academic achievement. Future studies should further explore factors that can promote strong academic achievement, including studies that examine whether intervention to improve social functioning can support academic achievement in children with ASD.


Academic achievement Autism School-aged Intellectual ability