“IQ is malleable.” A recent study published online in Nature and summarized in the Wall Street Journal found evidence that IQ is not fixed (as was once thought), but instead can change over time correlated with changes in the brain. Specifically the study looked at 33 British teens (the sample was too small to draw broad conclusions for all teens), giving them an IQ test and MRI in 2004 and again in 2008. What they found is that IQs jumped up or down for about 1 in 5 teens and those changes corresponded to changes in the brain.
There is speculation that the change in brain structure and associated change in IQ is the result of learning experiences. In other words environmental factors, mental engagement, learning new thing, can all affect brain structure and intelligence.
The quantitative side of me was alert to the small sample size and correlation/causality questions, but my non-scientific, gut reaction to this news screamed out, “Of course it does!” It immediately made me think of early intervention, of aggressive, hands-on speech therapy, occupational therapy, ABA therapy and all the proven good it does for children on the autism spectrum. So many of the parents on MyAutismTeam report that early intervention therapy had the biggest impact on their children. That learning and focused attention matters enormously and I wouldn’t be surprised at all if it alters the brain, and changes IQs (or whatever measure of intellectual potential you wish to measure). Doesn’t seem like much of a stretch to me at all. I think time and larger studies will prove that this is one more reason to fight for early intervention and never give up on our kids.