Intelligence is a very loaded attribute. Intelligence is a particularly problematic concept in the autism and disability spaces.
Firstly intelligence takes a number of forms. There is ‘IQ’ type intelligence, emotional intelligence and social intelligence. There is also resilience and wisdom gathered through experience. None of these attributes make a person any more or less but they do lead to judgement. We live in a society which largely privileges intelligence and views it as a quality which makes some people ‘better’ than others.
Intelligence is an attribute, like having blue eyes or liking the colour purple. But unlike those attributes intellect has a loaded meaning. High intellect is considered a positive quality and people judged as intelligent are considered somehow better than those with lower intellects. There are lots of insults related to intellect – ‘stupid;’ ‘dumb’ ‘idiot’ are all ableist slurs based on a low intellect. This is not OK and intelligence really is just another attribute. It could be considered that being intelligent may make it easier to navigate the world but that is not necessarily true. People with a high intellect can be bullied for it – I was – and can also worry a lot about life.
The measurement of intelligence is fraught, especially in the context of disability. IQ tests are extremely problematic. They are culturally loaded but they can also be extremely misleading for people who use communication methods which aren’t verbal speech (alternative and augmented communication, or AAC). I have a friend called Rosemary who runs a service for people who use non-speech communication. Rosemary has done a lot of work with education departments because the IQ tests used to determine whether someone goes to mainstream school or not do not accurately measure the capability of people who use AAC. Basically the tests are only accurately representative of intellect for those who use verbal speech so when they are applied to someone who uses AAC the results are misleading. When Rosemary used a different IQ test with these kids – one that more accurately measures the capability of people who do not use verbal speech – the change in results was dramatic. Children who had initially been assessed as having an IQ of under 60 points now had a revised score of average and in some cases above average IQ. So administering an inappropriate test robbed these children of the capacity to demonstrate their actual capability and meant in some cases that they were sent to the wrong school.
A lot of autistic people are ‘twice exceptional’ meaning they have a high IQ and a disability. This group can struggle with attitudes of others based in the idea that being intelligent is ‘good’ and having a high IQ should make life easier in all other domains. This in fact is far from the truth. The ‘high functioning’ label can be applied meaning they miss out on support and services they may need. Then there are autistic people who get the ‘low functioning’ label. This group are viewed as having low intellect and low capability. In my experience the people who get a ‘low functioning’ label are usually people who use AAC. Our bias as a society towards spoken communication means those who use communication methods other than speech are somehow considered lesser. This TED talk by author, advocate and AAC user Tim Chan covers off a lot of these issues: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Woy-XzC-UVs
It is very easy to fall into the trap of judging people by intellect or using ablest slurs related to intellect. I would say work to check this as it makes life harder for everyone. See intellect as an attribute and nothing more. It is such a loaded thing but it doesn’t need to be.