Intelligence Redefined

Filed Under (Communication, Intelligence) by Estee on 20-07-2013

Yep, yep…that’s how I felt reading a review of Scott Barry Kaufman’s book Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined. Dr. Kaufman, a cognitive psychologist from New York University claims that he was dismayed by IQism: “I would look into textbooks and look at these charts that said if your IQ was this score or your IQ was that score, these were your chances of obtaining various things in life. I just didn’t accept it.” (Globe & Mail, Focus Section, p. F3, July 20, 2013). He cites our definition of intelligence conflating with speed and efficiency. Yet, a question I always ask myself in reading such books is if it is achieving recognition and transformation in the way we provide opportunity for all people.

Certainly when I was growing up, IQism was hammered into us – our fates seemed sealed by childhood – supposedly. Poor at the time in math (primarily because of the way it was taught – I graduated an Ontario Scholar from high school after finding the right tutor in math), I remember my grade four teacher announcing to the class that I was a failure. I’d like to tell her now that I’m a doctoral student, and how long it took me to get here, and how devastating her words were for me that I remembered and had to fight against for the rest of my life. Subsequently, of course, I had other teachers who felt I should be a writer, or an artist – thankfully. The question I have now is how these transformations can take place for people with the autism label in recognition of disability and various intelligences. Again, what kinds of support must we all provide to enable autistic rights and well-being? When I say rights, I believe education is but one of them.

While we all work having to prove ourselves throughout our lives, I believe it is more exhausting when a severely disabled, particularly a person with a communication impairment and movement/sensory differences, is confronted with daily prejudice about their intelligence. When it takes a long time to get out a few words by typing or speech, you are more discriminated against. Stephen Hawking can only type about twenty words per minute and we speakers utter about 157 words per minute. In other words, there’s a lot of work that goes into having to communicate for many people, and by the time people finish a basic greeting (unless it is preprogrammed into a device) most people will have walked away.

C.F. Goodey

I’d highly recommend that if people are interested in the history of this prejudice, and how we’ve come to view intelligence in terms of speed, to read C.F. Goodey’s, The History of Intellectual Disability. It seems to have informed Dr. Kaufman’s work, and this is a promising step in shifting the manner in which we support people’s potential throughout their lives, for as Kaufman writes, “Potential isn’t something that’s fixed at birth. Potential is a moving target.” While I’m not sure about his concept on ability grouping – I’m always wary of the power imbalances at work in our society and how we favour some abilities over others – I do support the idea that people have many different types of potentials and types of contributions throughout the life-span. In summary, this kind of popular book may create more dialogue about how we are coming to understand intelligence, but our challenge is to transform the way we accommodate it.


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About Me


I’m a PhD candidate at York University, Critical Disability Studies, with a multi-disciplinary background in the arts as a curator and writer. I am the Founder of The Autism Acceptance Project (, and an enamoured mother of my only son who lives with the autism label. I like to write about our journey, critical issues regarding autism in the area of human rights, law, and social justice, as well as reflexive practices in (auto)ethnographic writing about autism.