Calling me intelligent isn’t a compliment

Before I begin this post, I need to acknowledge that I am currently having problems wording my thoughts. I am grateful to my friends for helping me get these thoughts from badly worded to better worded.

I often see people boast about their IQ scores and try assert a level of superiority based on that.

I’ve been called intelligent on numerous occasions in my life, but it really hasn’t been a positive experience.

As a child, I regularly heard people say “well, at least she’s intelligent.” Misgendering aside, that basically meant that if I wasn’t intelligent, I would be completely worthless. In addition to that, there was the common question of “you’re so intelligent so why can’t you do this?

Because of that, when people call me intelligent, I don’t take it as a compliment. It serves as a painful reminder. If I wasn’t intelligent, I would be more thoroughly rejected by society than I already am.

Looking at how this translates to autistic people, intelligence is just another way to assign a functioning label.

Kanner referenced “high functioning” autism, but what he meant, literally exactly what he meant, was “Autistic and scored a 140 or higher on an IQ test” (at the time, the top 1% or so of the population).

Radical Neurodivergence Speaking

So intelligence, measured by IQ tests, is yet another way of separating autistic people into two groups. Some of us don’t deserve any support, while some of us are burdens.

More broadly, we need to acknowledge that intelligence as a concept has exceptionally ableist foundations. Often, it is used to determine a person’s worth. Intelligence is used as a way to separate people into those that are capable, and those who supposedly aren’t. In addition to that, intelligence is not really a well-defined concept and it’s ableist.

So we rely on IQ tests to determine intelligence, and while there may be many variations of IQ tests, they all essentially measure the same thing. They measure how well an individual performs the test.

It gets murkier when we try to unpack what being good at any particular IQ test actually means because of the value judgements that we attach to intelligent. As a society, we believe that intelligent means good and unintelligent means less than, and that is inherently ableist. As a society, we believe that being intelligent means being rational and being rational is good and being irrational is less desirable. Those are all ableist beliefs.

They’re also somewhat culturally specific. Rationality is not universally revered. Being good at IQ tests which often rely on logical abilities is not universally revered either.

Scoring high on IQ tests should never be a measure of the worth of a person, and yet it seems to be. It seems as though people who score high on IQ tests are perceived to be more valuable to society than those who score lower. It seems that doing well at IQ tests means that you should be able to do things that you might be unable to do. If you can’t do those things, then it must be a personal failing rather than due to any other factor.

We need to stop trying to determine the value of people using arbitrary measures, such as intelligence. We need to start recognising that all human beings have equal worth.