WISC-IV Profile in High-Functioning Autism Spectrum Disorders: Impaired Processing Speed is Associated with Increased Autism Communication Symptoms and Decreased Adaptive Communication Abilities

  • Rafael E. Oliveras-Rentas
  • Lauren Kenworthy
  • Richard B. RobersonIII
  • Alex Martin
  • Gregory L. WallaceEmail author
Original Paper


Changes in the Wechsler Intelligence Scales for Children-IV (WISC-IV) may affect the IQ profile characteristic of autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Moreover, the association of particular component cognitive abilities (unlike overall IQ) with symptomatology and adaptive functioning in ASD remains unclear. This archival study characterizes the WISC-IV IQ profile among 56 high-functioning (IQ > 70) children with ASD and correlates WISC-IV performance with ASD and ADHD symptomatology and adaptive functioning. The ASD WISC-IV profile included strengths on Matrix Reasoning and Similarities, weaknesses on Comprehension (which correlated negatively with social symptoms) and the subtests comprising the Processing Speed Index (Coding, Symbol Search). Processing speed task performance correlated negatively with communication symptoms and positively with communication abilities, indicating its importance to functional outcomes in ASD.


Autism IQ Processing speed Symptomatology Adaptive behavior ADHD Intelligence 



This research was supported by the Intramural Research Program of the NIH, National Institute of Mental Health. We would like to thank the children and families who so kindly gave their time and energy to assist in this research.


  1. Allen, M. H., Lincoln, A. J., & Kaufman, A. S. (1991). Sequential and simultaneous processing abilities of high-functioning autistic and language-impaired children. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 21, 483–502.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Asarnow, R. F., Tanguay, P. E., Bott, L., & Freeman, B. J. (1987). Patterns of intellectual functioning in non-retarded autistic and schizophrenic children. Journal Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 28, 273–280.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Benjamini, Y., & Hochberg, Y. (1995). Controlling the false discovery rate: A practical and powerful approach to multiple testing. Journal of the Royal Statistical Society, Series B (Methodological), 57, 289–300.Google Scholar
  4. Billstedt, E., Gillberg, I. C., & Gillberg, C. (2007). Autism in adults: Symptom patterns and early childhood predictors. Use of the DISCO in a community sample followed from childhood. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 48, 1102–1110.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Black, D. O., Wallace, G. L., Sokoloff, J. L., & Kenworthy, L. (2009). Brief report: IQ split predicts social symptoms and communication abilities in high-functioning children with autism spectrum disorders. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 39, 1613–1619.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bolte, S., & Poustka, F. (2002). The relation between general cognitive level and adaptive behavior domains in individuals with autism with and without co-morbid mental retardation. Child Psychiatry and Human Development, 33, 165–172.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Calhoun, S. L., & Mayes, S. D. (2005). Processing speed in children with clinical disorders. Psychology in the Schools, 42, 333–343.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Carter, A. S., Volkmar, F. R., Sparrow, S. S., Wang, J., Lord, C., Dawson, G., et al. (1998). The Vineland adaptive behavior scales: Supplementary norms for individuals with autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 28, 287–302.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Chhabildas, N., Pennington, B. F., & Willcutt, E. G. (2001). A comparison of the neuropsychological profiles of the DSM-IV subtypes of ADHD. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 29, 529–540.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Dawson, M., Soulieres, I., Gernsbacher, M. A., & Mottron, L. (2007). Research report: The level and nature of autistic intelligence. Psychological Science, 18, 657–662.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Dennis, M., Lockyer, L., Lazenby, A. L., Donnelly, R. E., Wilkinson, M., & Schoonheyt, W. (1999). Intelligence patterns among children with high-functioning autism, phenylketonuria, and childhood head injury. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 29, 5–17.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Donders, J., & Jenke, K. (2008). Criterion validity of the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children-Fourth Edition after pediatric traumatic brain injury. Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society, 14, 651–655.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. DuPaul, G. J., Power, T. J., Anastopoulos, A. D., & Reid, R. (1998). ADHD rating scale- IV: Checklists, norms, and clinical interpretation. New York: The Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  14. Elliott, C. D. (1990). The differential ability scales. Lutz, FL: Psychological Assessment Resources, Inc.Google Scholar
  15. Fiorello, C. A., Hale, J. B., McGrath, M., Ryan, K., & Quinn, S. (2001). IQ interpretation for children with flat and variable test profiles. Learning and Individual Differences, 13, 115–125.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Freeman, B. J., Chapman, L. J., Forness, S. R., & Ritvo, E. R. (1985). Cognitive processing of high functioning autistic children: Comparing the K-ABC and the WISC-R. Journal of Psychoeducational Assessment, 4, 357–362.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Freeman, B. J., Del’Homme, M., Guthrie, D., & Zhang, F. (1999). Vineland adaptive behavior scale scores as a function of age and initial IQ in 210 autistic children. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 29, 379–384.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Goldstein, G., Allen, D. N., Minshew, N. J., Williams, D. L., Volkmar, F., Klin, A., et al. (2008). The structure of intelligence in children and adults with high functioning autism. Neuropsychology, 22, 301–312.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Goldstein, S., & Schwebach, A. J. (2004). The comorbidity of pervasive developmental disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: Results of a retrospective chard review. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 34, 329–339.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Happé, F. G. (1994). Wechsler IQ profile and theory of mind in autism: A research note. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 35, 1461–1471.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Hollingshead, A. B. (1975). Four factor index of social status. New Haven: Yale University.Google Scholar
  22. Joseph, R. M., Tager-Flusberg, H., & Lord, C. (2002). Cognitive profiles and social communicative functioning in children with autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 46, 807–821.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Kenworthy, L. E., Black, D. O., Wallace, G. L., Ahluvalia, T., Wagner, A. E., & Sirian, L. M. (2005). Disorganization: The forgotten executive dysfunction in high-functioning autism (HFA) spectrum disorders. Developmental Neuropsychology, 28, 809–827.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Kenworthy, L., Case, L., Harms, M. B., Martin, A., & Wallace, G. L. (2010). Adaptive behavior ratings correlate with symptomatology and IQ among individual with high-functioning autism spectrum disorders. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 40, 416–423.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Klin, A., Saulnier, C. A., Sparrow, S. S., Cicchetti, D. V., Volkmar, F. R., & Lord, C. (2007). Social and communication abilities and disabilities in higher functioning individuals with autism spectrum disorders: The Vineland and the ADOS. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 37, 748–759.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Koegel, L. K., Koegel, R. L., & Smith, A. (1997). Variables related to differences in standardized test outcomes for children with autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 27, 233–244.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Koyama, T., Tachimori, H., Osada, H., & Kurita, H. (2006). Cognitive and symptom profiles in high functioning pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 36, 373–380.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Koyama, T., Tachimori, H., Osada, H., Takeda, T., & Kurita, H. (2007). Cognitive and symptom profiles in Asperger’s syndrome and high functioning autism. Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, 61, 99–104.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Lainhart, J. E., Bigler, E. D., Bocian, M., Coon, H., Dinh, E., Dawson, G., et al. (2006). Head circumference and height in autism: A study by the collaborative program of excellence in autism. American Journal of Medical Genetics, 140, 2257–2274.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  30. Le Couteur, A., Rutter, M., Lord, C., Rios, P., Robertson, S., Holdgrafer, M., et al. (1989). Autism diagnostic interview: A standardized investigator-based instrument. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 19, 363–387.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Leyfer, O. T., Folstein, S. E., Bacalman, S., Davis, N. O., Dinh, E., Morgan, J., et al. (2006). Comorbid psychiatric disorders in children with autism: Interview development and rates of disorders. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 36, 849–861.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Lincoln, A. J., Courchesne, E., Kilman, B. A., Elmasian, R., & Allen, M. (1988). A study of intellectual abilities in high-functioning people with autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 18, 505–524.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Liss, M., Harel, B., Fein, D., Allen, D., Dunn, M., Feinstein, C., et al. (2001). Predictors and correlates of adaptive functioning in children with developmental disorders. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 31, 219–230.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Lord, C., Rutter, M., DiLavore, P. C., & Risi, S. (1999). Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule–WPS (ADOS-WPS). Los Angeles, CA: Western Psychological Services.Google Scholar
  35. Lord, C., Rutter, M., & Le Couteur, A. (1994). Autism diagnostic interview-revised: A revised version of a diagnostic interview for caregivers and individuals with possible developmental disorders. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 24, 659–685.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Mayes, S. D., & Calhoun, S. L. (2003). Analysis of WISC-III, Stanford-Binet: IV, and academic achievement test scores in children with autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 33, 329–341.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Mayes, S. D., & Calhoun, S. L. (2004). Similarities and differences in Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children-Third Edition (WISC-III) profiles: Support for subtest analysis in clinical referrals. Clinical Neuropsychologist, 18, 559–572.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Mayes, S. D., & Calhoun, S. L. (2006). WISC-III and WISC-IV profiles in children with ADHD. Journal of Attention Disorders, 9, 486–493.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Mayes, S. D., & Calhoun, S. L. (2008). WISC-IV and WIAT-II profiles in children with high-functioning autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 38, 428–439.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. McAuley, T., Chen, S., Goos, L., Schachar, R., & Crosbie, J. (2010). Is the behavior rating inventory of executive function more strongly associated with measures of impairment or executive function? Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society, 16, 495–505.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Nyden, A., Billstedt, E., Hjelmquist, E., & Gillberg, C. (2001). Neurocognitive stability in Asperger syndrome, ADHD, and reading and writing disorder: A pilot study. Developmental Medicine and Child Neurology, 43, 65–171.Google Scholar
  42. Pfeiffer, S., Reddy, L., Kletzel, J., Schmelzler, E., & Boyer, L. (2000). The practitioner’s view of IQ testing and profile analysis. School Psychology Quarterly, 15, 376–385.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Power, T. J., Doherty, B. J., Panichelli-Mindel, S. M., Karustis, J. L., Eiraldi, R. B., Anastopoulos, A. D., et al. (1998). The predictive validity of parent and teacher reports of ADHD symptoms. Journal of Psychopathology and Behavioral Assessment, 20, 57–81.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Scheuffgen, K., Happé, F., Anderson, M., & Frith, U. (2000). High ‘‘intelligence’’, low ‘‘IQ’’? Speed of processing and measured IQ in children with autism. Development and Psychopathology, 12, 83–90.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Siegel, D. J., Minshew, N. J., & Goldstein, G. (1996). Wechsler IQ profiles in diagnosis of high-functioning autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 26, 389–406.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Sinzig, J., Morsch, D., Bruning, N., Schmidt, M. H., & Lehmkuhl, G. (2008). Inhibition, flexibility, working memory and planning in autism spectrum disorders with and without comorbid ADHD-symptoms. Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health, 2, 4.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Sparrow, S. S., Cicchetti, D. V., & Balla, D. A. (2005). Vineland adaptive behavior scales: Second edition (Vineland II), survey interview form/caregiver rating form. Livonia, MN: Pearson Assessments.Google Scholar
  48. Tallal, P. (2004). Opinion–improving language and literacy is a matter of time. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 5, 721–728.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Tillman, C., Eninger, L., Forssman, L., & Bohlin, G. (2011). The relation between working memory components and ADHD symptoms from a developmental perspective. Developmental Neuropsychology, 36, 181–198.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Venter, A., Lord, C., & Schopler, E. (1992). A follow-up-study of high-functioning autistic children. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 33, 489–507.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Volkmar, F. R., Sparrow, S. S., Goudreau, D., Cicchetti, D. V., Paul, R., & Cohen, D. J. (1987). Social deficits in autism: An operational approach using the Vineland-adaptive behavior scales. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 26, 156–161.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Wallace, G. L., Anderson, M., & Happé, F. (2009a). Brief report: Information processing speed is intact in autism but not correlated with measured intelligence. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 39, 809–814.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Wallace, G. L., Happé, F., & Giedd, J. N. (2009b). A case study of a multiply-talented savant with an autism spectrum disorder: Neuropsychological functioning and brain morphometry. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society: Section B: Biological Sciences, 364, 1425–1432.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Wechsler, D. (2003). Wechsler intelligence scale for children-fourth edition (WISC-IV). San Antonio, TX: Psychological Corporation.Google Scholar
  55. Yerys, B. E., Wallace, G. L., Sokoloff, J. L., Shook, D. A., James, J. D., & Kenworthy, L. (2009). Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder symptoms moderate cognition and behavior in children with autism spectrum disorders. Autism Research, 2, 322–333.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  56. Yoshida, Y., & Uchiyama, T. (2004). The clinical necessity for assessing attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (AD/HD) symptoms in children with high functioning pervasive developmental disorder (PDD). European Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 13, 307–314.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC (outside the USA) 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Rafael E. Oliveras-Rentas
    • 1
  • Lauren Kenworthy
    • 1
  • Richard B. RobersonIII
    • 2
  • Alex Martin
    • 2
  • Gregory L. Wallace
    • 2
    Email author
  1. 1.Center for Autism Spectrum DisordersChildren’s National Medical CenterWashingtonUSA
  2. 2.Laboratory of Brain & CognitionNational Institute of Mental HealthBethesdaUSA

Personalised recommendations