IQ, trauma, autism and gender
I wish intelligence didn’t exist as a metric. Nobody cares what your IQ is unless you’re one of those shy, quiet children who seems to have advanced maths skills and is usually hiding behind the duffel coats crying.
I was that child. I don’t know why — I was bullied a lot and all I ever wanted to do was escape. I had a weird home life and grew up being taught that ghosts and demons were literally true.
Talking about childhood trauma seems almost clichéd. Not every child with autism has experienced trauma or adverse childhood experiences, but I did. I was in hospital several times before the age of 3. I went to 11 different schools by the time I was 13, and lived in 21 homes by the time I was 21 — including being homeless several times as a child and teenager. The worst episode lasted for 2 years.
I was bullied at every school I went to, including two boarding schools. By the time I was taken out of my final school, mere months after my 13th birthday, I had started to develop severe behavioural problems. I would panic and run in the other direction if I saw kids my own age. I would pick at my skin and pull out my hair, and seemed to have developed an autoimmune disorder. I had to be home schooled from that point on. I self-harmed and developed bulimia.
An IQ test put me in the genius category — or, certainly, the gifted child one.
It’s probably crass to talk about numbers, but this is kind of the point. My IQ test came out at 140 — this put me in the top 4% of the population and well above the ‘gifted’ 130 line. There was no time to feel pride at that, because the number came with a swift rejection: we’re sorry, but you’re not a proper genius. MENSA only accepts individuals with IQs that fall in the top 2%. I’m sorry, suicidal traumatised 13 year old, but you are simply nowhere near as smart as you think. You don’t belong with us. Quit darkening our doorstep, you big imposter. Go on, shoo. Get lost.
For anyone whose identity doesn’t rest upon their intelligence, this will seem like a bafflingly trivial rejection. But for me, it made me feel like a fraud and a failure. I don’t think I’ve ever stopped feeling like I’m not good enough.
All my life I had been told I was different. This came from outside of me. I don’t think I saw myself as different. I didn’t understand why other kids bullied me so much, or why my parents and teachers were always angry.
What I do remember clearly is my mother telling me how totally clever and chosen I was. God’s Will, you know. Great Purpose. Blah blah.
…My life has been this weird juxtaposition of people telling me how incredibly smart I am, and other people getting angry and trying to go out of their way to prove I’m not.
Gender is a compounding factor in both autism and IQ. Hans Asperger identified Asperger’s Syndrome, the condition where impairments in social functioning intersect with high intelligence and ability. Unfortunately, Asperger himself believed that women couldn’t suffer from the condition. Even Simon Baron-Cohen, one of the most prominent researchers in the Asperger’s field, has described the condition as the ‘extreme male brain’.
I started a degree in astrophysics when I was 16 years old. I don’t think anyone should have let me go, but that fantasy of genius is too easy to fetishize.
I didn’t last long. I had nothing but posturing. Besides, traumas happened.
The aftermath was hard. I never really overcame the depression. You’re only in the top 4%! You’re so stupid! I bet everyone else was in the 2%. You’re nothing. You’re such a fake and a failure. Everyone can see right through you. They hate you! They look at you and think you’re a freak!
The sad thing is that I probably do have some above-average skills in maths. If I’d had anyone in my life who could have taught me properly throughout high school and University, who knows what I could have achieved?
I’m not sure about the autism. It’s possible I could have had such an unstable childhood and been born with Asperger’s too. Yet I suspect that there is some degree of developmental trauma involved, at least sometimes. The same symptoms can have different aetiologies, and we mustn’t forget that. I certainly have many traits of Aspergers…
…apart from all the ones which present differently in women anyway.