Improving IQ measurement in intellectual disabilities using true deviation from population norms

Stephanie M. Sansone, Andrea Schneider, Erika Bickel, Elizabeth Berry-Kravis, Christina Prescott, David R Hessl

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

59 Scopus citations


Background: Intellectual disability (ID) is characterized by global cognitive deficits, yet the very IQ tests used to assess ID have limited range and precision in this population, especially for more impaired individuals. Methods: We describe the development and validation of a method of raw z-score transformation (based on general population norms) that ameliorates floor effects and improves the precision of IQ measurement in ID using the Stanford Binet 5 (SB5) in fragile X syndrome (FXS; n = 106), the leading inherited cause of ID, and in individuals with idiopathic autism spectrum disorder (ASD; n = 205). We compared the distributional characteristics and Q-Q plots from the standardized scores with the deviation z-scores. Additionally, we examined the relationship between both scoring methods and multiple criterion measures. Results: We found evidence that substantial and meaningful variation in cognitive ability on standardized IQ tests among individuals with ID is lost when converting raw scores to standardized scaled, index and IQ scores. Use of the deviation z- score method rectifies this problem, and accounts for significant additional variance in criterion validation measures, above and beyond the usual IQ scores. Additionally, individual and group-level cognitive strengths and weaknesses are recovered using deviation scores. Conclusion: Traditional methods for generating IQ scores in lower functioning individuals with ID are inaccurate and inadequate, leading to erroneously flat profiles. However assessment of cognitive abilities is substantially improved by measuring true deviation in performance from standardization sample norms. This work has important implications for standardized test development, clinical assessment, and research for which IQ is an important measure of interest in individuals with neurodevelopmental disorders and other forms of cognitive impairment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number16
JournalJournal of Neurodevelopmental Disorders
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 8 2014


  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • Cognitive assessment
  • Fragile X syndrome
  • Intellectual disability
  • IQ

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health


Dive into the research topics of 'Improving IQ measurement in intellectual disabilities using true deviation from population norms'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this