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Could You Be Autistic? Quiz Gives a Hint

By October 27, 2010

The "Autism Quotient" (AQ) quiz has been around for years now.  It's a screening tool designed by Psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen and his colleagues at Cambridge's Autism Research Centre "as a measure of the extent of autistic traits in adults."  Published in Wired Magazine's website, it's now making the rounds on FaceBook.  According to the blurb on the Wired site:

In the first major trial using the test, the average score in the control group was 16.4. Eighty percent of those diagnosed with autism or a related disorder scored 32 or higher. The test is not a means for making a diagnosis, however, and many who score above 32 and even meet the diagnostic criteria for mild autism or Asperger's report no difficulty functioning in their everyday lives.

The Autism Quotient test is just one of many similar screening tests devised by the Cambridge research group. In fact, there are nearly two dozen online screenings available on the site, including AQ tests for adults, adolescents and children, empathy tests, "mindreading" tests, and more.

Of course, there is a disclaimer that these tests are not diagnostic, and they're only to be used for "genuine research." Still, for parents of children on the autism spectrum, adults wondering whether they might fall into an autism spectrum category, or anyone concerned about the symptoms of autism, these tests may be a useful first step in deciding whether or not to seek an evaluation.

Have you taken the AQ or any other of the tests at the Cambridge Autism Research Centre site?

October 27, 2010 at 10:41 am
(1) Malia says:

Yes, I’ve take the AQ on line a few different times and have found that I’m perfectly capable of intentionally skewing the results to give myself more or less than 32. I believe the questions have to be answered honestly and devoid of the knowledge of what diagnostic criteria are associated with autism in order to get even a semi-accurate indication.

October 27, 2010 at 1:50 pm
(2) vmgillen says:

Why do we feel so compelled to seek a diagnosis? The easy answer: without a Dx, the gatekeepers won’t let you through: insurance, support, etc. Traditional med.soc says a Dx legitimizes the person, and compels them to seek treatment… I think the whole thing comes down to money, at this point. The APA, which, face it, operates by “billable hours” has managed to broaden the ASD Dx to the point of uselessness – but look how many more people need/seek billable services! And how easy it is to ask society to understand and tolerate others’ behaviours because they have a DIAGNOSIS – not because they feel compassion or empathy… feh.

October 27, 2010 at 1:50 pm
(3) validated says:

Yes, I took first the AQ test overnight this summer after a colleague in education tipped me off that I might have Aspergers, and I didn’t yet know about what it entailed on the test and was surprised that anyone would even suggest it to me. I was more surprised to find my score squarely right in the Aspergers range. I stayed up that night reading up online and eventually found another, longer test. The next day I asked a friend to take the AQ test so I could see what he got and how skewed it was. He scored squarely in the normal range. What’s more, I was amazed that anyone could stand to give some of the answers he gave.
So I sought out further examination. I received a professional diagnosis last week. It was the right suspicion all along. But of course people must go by more than an online quiz, and consider whether they’re getting the “Aha, that would explain my whole life” feeling if they are serious enough to seek out a professional.

October 27, 2010 at 2:39 pm
(4) AutismNewsBeat says:

The test is not a means for making a diagnosis, however, and many who score above 32 and even meet the diagnostic criteria for mild autism or Asperger’s report no difficulty functioning in their everyday lives.

It would be revealing to quantify how many of those folks report no difficulty not just in US culture, but in other countries around the world. Or in Amish society, for than matter, where differences are accepted and accommodated without a second thought.

October 27, 2010 at 4:26 pm
(5) Stuart Duncan says:

I’ve been curious about myself for quite some time, since being introduced into all things Autism but have not been able to get in for any real testing/diagnosis.

So, for curiosity’s sake, I took the test and scored a 26.

Not really an indicator of anything, plus I found the questions rather subjective since some with Autism have actually found ways to be ok in social settings and some NT people simply are hermits.

Anyway, it does get you thinking. So I guess that’s something.

October 27, 2010 at 6:39 pm
(6) Malia says:

There seems to be a wide range of plausible honest answers to many of the questions… depending on the day and what the person chooses to read into the answers. It’s not just a tendency towards autism that separates some of the answers. I think the test is also vulnerable to various stereotypes, which skew how various people may define the terms.

Take No. 24 – “I would rather go to the theater than to a museum.”

Truth is, I actually probably like going to each of these in equal measure. This means that I can honestly agree or disagree with it… perhaps it depends on what’s playing or what exhibit happens to be in town.

But maybe it depends on what answer I think will impress more people (which is not really a trait of autism). Maybe I think it’s just classier to be drawn to champagne showings of Picassos than being attracted to popcorn and pop at the local discount movie house.

If, when I anser the question, I’m mentally choosing between the Louvre vs. a movie, won’t my answer (regardless of what it actually is) say something different about me than if I’m mentally choosing between a sports hall of fame and an opera?

October 27, 2010 at 7:18 pm
(7) Joseph says:

I think what the AQ test lacks is more precise information on its accuracy. I know there are papers on it, but I think the details could be better, to avoid speculation on the internet to the effect that it’s useless and so forth.

In more technical jargon, the AQ test is a classification instrument, with a specificity and sensitivity (true-positive and true-negative rates, respectively.)

At different thresholds, the specificity and sensitivity are different. For example, those who score above 40 are much less likely to be false-positives than those who score, say, 33.

What is needed is a ROC curve, like this:


October 27, 2010 at 7:25 pm
(8) Joseph says:

And to continue with the technical analysis, tools like the AQ test could be much better if you consider that they are not paper-and-pencil tools, necessarily. They can be online tools.

With computers, you can apply pretty sophisticated classification methods. Even a linear classification technique like logistic regression should work better than simply assigning a one or a zero to each answer.

A non-linear method (e.g. k-Nearest-Neighbor classification) might be considerably more accurate, in average.

Finally, if the Baron-Cohen team would release their raw data, perhaps as part of a competition involviong the best data scientists in the world (and there are sites that do this), I can guarantee you that a far superior classification technique would result.

October 27, 2010 at 10:17 pm
(9) Bill says:

I am endowed with Asperger’s Syndrome.

I’ve seen and taken the test before. I dislike some of the ambiguity of the questions; I took it again just now and scored 40.

In the past I’ve watched family members take the test too, and I infer from those experiences that the test will most probably often understate the autistic tendencies, because polite people will not inform people they are repetitive boors, and the Aspies will go around blissfully unaware of how others perceive them or why they have so few friends. (I think roughly six of the questions require some sense of feedback from others.) One of my brothers who nails pretty much every autistic tendency denies having any of those qualities, even though to me it is obvious he has much more severe case of Asperger’s than either I, or my other professionally diagnosed brother.

October 28, 2010 at 11:26 am
(10) Malia says:

I have taken the test multiple times, and each time I did provide honest answers. My answers varied because I used various different ideas I had about what some of the terms used in the questions meant to me in various circumstances. For example, a zoo is a form of museum; therefore Disney’s Animal Kingdom could be also consider a museum; but I’m quite certain the test isn’t taking that sort of interpretation into the results. Using this approach, I have quite honestly scored as low as 16 and as high as 38.

I know the powers that assess these sorts of tests have all sorts of parameters they apply to try to make the varied results they get more accurate; but I still say the test has a HUGE, huge margin for error.

October 29, 2010 at 1:22 pm
(11) Malia says:

Just in case anyone thinks I’m out to lunch about the museum definition thing, here is a link that shows just how broadly this single term may be legitimately interpreted (courtesy of ICOM, aka International Council of Museums):


October 29, 2010 at 4:49 pm
(12) C. S. Wyatt says:

When I first took the A.Q. it was out of curiosity to see how how the results would compare to the official diagnosis, which emphasized I did not have Asperger’s Syndrome.

My score on the A.Q. has held steady from 42-45. Generally, it isn’t a question of if I’m HFA with symptoms of Kanner’s classic autism.

Where I have some difficulty understanding diagnostic instruments is on the borders of criteria. I admit that I have met people that I’m not sure had any signs of autism, but they do have the official diagnosis. Others I have met have what seem to be obvious traits, yet cannot secure a diagnosis.

“Autism” is so subjective, especially at the margins, that I’m increasingly uncomfortable with the broader and broader criteria and diagnostic labels.

The sad truth is that the marginal issues are why so many people are quick to dismiss truly impaired / challenged individuals as liars or cheats or something worse. I read a blog entry (and responded) that had a list of “fake” autistic advocates — and was stunned to find my name on the list. Apparently, I faked my early childhood, proving how smart and devious I am.

Instruments like the A.Q., which are not diagnostic, could result in more individuals seeking diagnoses. That’s potentially good, and potentially “bad” if diagnoses became too liberalized. I am ambivalent — not sure if the “good” or “bad” outcome is more likely.

A colleague once said everyone could be diagnosed with something in the DSM-IV. I hope that’s still hyperbole or some sort of humorous statement. Could it be that difference is increasingly categorized as clinical abnormality?

As my wife observed, apparently shyness / introversion is abnormal if you read the A.Q. questions a certain way.

November 1, 2010 at 8:28 am
(13) RAJ says:

The ASQ is a personality test not a test for a handicapping neurological disorder. The behavioral genecists continue to trivialize a profoundly handicapping disorder. Kanner had it right in 1965 when he joined Van Krevelan on objecting to the ‘abuse of the diagnosis of autism’ that threatens to become a fashion’:

“While the majority of the Europeans were satisfied with a sharp delineation of infantile autism as an illness sui generis, there was a tendency in this country to view it as a developmental anomaly ascribed exclusively to maternal emotional determinants. Moreover, it became a habit to dilute the original concept of infantile autism by diagnosing it in many disparate conditions which show one or another isolated symptom found as a part feature of the overall syndrome. Almost overnight, the country seemed to be populated by a multitude of autistic children, and somehow this trend became noticeable overseas as well. Mentally defective children who displayed bizarre behavior were promptly labeled autistic” ( Kanner 1965).

November 1, 2010 at 8:33 am
(14) autism says:

Wow, Raj… thanks for that quote. Very eye-opening!

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