Autism Spectrum Quotient: An #ActuallyAutistic Response

If you search “Am I Autistic?” the first thing you’ll find is a bunch of online autism tests and autism quizzes. They are deeply flawed and neurotypical-centric. We sat down and picked apart one of them, the Autism Spectrum Quotient. Until we got bored and then we had ice cream.

You can read through our thoughts on each question below. The TL;DR version is that the questions are not logical or written by someone who understands how logical minds work, they do not reflect the diversity of symptoms, and they overlap with introversion (which is common among autistics but different…kind of like all insects are bugs but not all bugs are insects. Most autistics are introverts but most introverts are not autistic). Questions are in bold.

I prefer to do things with others rather than on my own.

–What things?  It all depends.  I like doing church with others, lifting really heavy objects with others. I like reading alone, but doesn’t everyone? 

I prefer to do things the same way over and over again.

–What things? Doesn’t everyone shower in the same way over and over? Don’t you drive to work in the same way every day? Isn’t that a neurotypical way to do things?

–If anything, my way is more different than a neurotypical because I have ADHD so I really can’t remember how I did it last time [laughs].

–Is there someone out there who prefers to do something in a different way every time? Like, I know, I’ll do laundry a different way every day this week.  Making pancakes the usual way is boring, let’s change it up and deep fry them.  Wait, that’s donuts.  Huh, that’s cool.  Donuts are just deep fried pancakes.

If I try to imagine something, I find it very easy to create a picture in my mind.

–Okay, yes, that’s me.

–Not me!  I’ve never been able to imagine at all.  I can’t see a picture in my mind. 

–You mean you can’t think of all the details of what something looks like?

–Oh, well, yeah, I can think of every single detail.  But I’m just thinking it.  I’m not creating a picture or imagining it or anything.

–I don’t think you know what imagining is.

–Yes I do.

–Okay, whatever.

I frequently get so strongly absorbed in one thing that I lose sight of other things.

–How would I know?  I mean, if I just lost sight of the other stuff, I wouldn’t know I lost sight, right?

–My wife says I’ve always done this but I’m only just becoming aware of it because she catches me while I’m doing it and points it out.  So you’re right, there’s no way to know that you’re doing it.

I often notice small sounds when others do not.

–I don’t notice small sounds.  I know this is getting at sensory sensitivity but to me they are really loud!  So if I didn’t know what they were getting at, I’d just say “no” because to me they aren’t small sounds. It’s only because I know they are asking if I’m sensitive that I’d know the right answer. But that doesn’t help someone who isn’t already aware.

–I’m a sensory seeker rather than avoider so I can’t hear things that other people CAN hear. 

I usually notice car number plates or similar strings of information.

–Nope that’s weird.

–But you always notice palindromic numbers.

–But those are cool.  License plate numbers are dumb and boring.

–I totally agree that license plate numbers are dumb and boring but noticing palindromic numbers is noticing a “similar string of information”

–No, it’s totally different from a license plate number.

Other people frequently tell me that what I’ve said is impolite, even though I think it is polite.

–Literally no one has ever said that what I’ve said is impolite.  My wife says that what I said was “not nice” or “not okay.”  Nowadays I’d know that it’s the same thing and I should put “definitely agree” but I would still put “definitely disagree” because I definitely disagree with how they phrased it. 

–Yeah, I don’t like that they put “definitely agree” or “slightly agree.” For something to be “definitely agree” it has to be 100% true and really nothing is 100% true except math. 

–Right, just one more way it’s neurotypical-centric.  Neurotypicals say things like “definitely” when they mean “like maybe 75%.” [laughter]

When I’m reading a story, I can easily imagine what the characters might look like.

–Huh.  I don’t know what the most autistic answer might be that they are looking for.  I mean, I have no idea what their faces are like or anything but I know EXACTLY what they are wearing, shoe size, how sloppy or neat they are, stuff like that.

–I can’t imagine.

–What do you mean you can’t imagine?

–I mean I can’t close my eyes and see it there in front of me

–No one can do that.  It just means being able to think of all the little details of something

–But people say that it’s “being able to see a thing in your head”

–They just mean figuratively, not literally.  They can’t actually see it, they just kind of describe it to themselves.

–Really?  I’ve gone my whole life thinking I can’t imagine because I can’t literally see things the way other people can and it turns out this whole time they couldn’t either???

 I am fascinated by dates.

–Huh?

–Like going out with someone or like the food or the numbers on a calendar?

–That’s weird.  Unless they mean how some teens are fascinated by their romantic interest that makes no sense.

–Hey Robin [resident neurotypical], does that make any sense to you?

–Um, I think they mean that some autistics are really fascinated by dates on the calendar but that seems really specific.  Like using birdwatching or trainspotting as a criteria.

In a social group, I can easily keep track of several different people’s conversations

–Gosh no!  People all interrupt each other too much.

–Well not easily, it’s so overwhelming!  I can hear every conversation in the room and I’m trying to track each one at the same time.  

I find social situations easy.

–Nope.

–What does easy mean?

–Like do you get stressed out.

–But it doesn’t say that.

–Neurotypicals don’t say what they mean.

–But if you didn’t know that, if you didn’t translate it to what they mean to say, if you just read what it said–does it mean anything?

–No.  It doesn’t.

–Exactly.

I tend to notice details that others do not.

–Which details?

–Yeah, like I don’t notice details like the sink is full of dishes that need to be loaded or that someone is pissed at me.  But I do notice if someone moved one of my things.

–Don’t we all notice details that other people don’t?  Like my friend is a seamstress so she’s always noticing how people’s clothes are constructed.  And people think that’s normal.  And I notice how bridges are constructed but that’s somehow autistic?

–Yeah, and I got in trouble because I didn’t notice the detail that my wife got a new haircut. [laughter]

I would rather go to a library than to a party.

–I would rather stay home.  So I’d say definitely disagree.  Because I would equally rather go to neither.

–I like the library best.  Definitely agree.

–It depends.  Is the library crowded?  Is it a cosplay party?  So I’m not sure at all.  I’d have to skip it.

I find making up stories easy.

–That’s a weird one.  Are we supposed to be able to or not? And the syntax is weird. It should say, “I find it easy to make up story.”

–I think we’re supposed to be able to.  So many of us are creative. My favorite place to find other aspies is in my fan fiction writing group. 

–But I have trouble with communication and I’m autistic.

–Hmm, that’s a weird one.  It depends if you’re hyperverbal or struggle with communication. We swing strongly both ways.

I find myself drawn more strongly to people than to things.

–I think we’re supposed to prefer things

–But it depends which person and which thing.  I’m really into simplifying.  I don’t like having a lot of stuff.  But you know, I really enjoy spending an evening with my electronics rather than, say, my family.  So I’d say “yes” more strongly drawn to people because ethically people are more valuable than things.  But I can’t tell what they are asking exactly when they say “drawn to”

–I think that’s a phrase that would be more of an outside observer rather than a self-reflection thing

–If there was a table with a person on it and a table with your favorite hobby on it, which would you be drawn to?

–To make it a fair test, you’d have to put my favorite person on one table and my favorite hobby on the other table.  Don’t tell anyone, but I’d be more drawn to my hobby. [laughter]

–It would depend on so much.  I’d say about 50-50 my favorite person versus my favorite hobby. But that’s just our interpretation of the question. I don’t see anywhere that they are asking about putting people on tables in this question.

I tend to have very strong interests, which I get upset about if I can’t pursue.

–I don’t get upset about my interests.  I get upset about the people who keep bothering me.

–I don’t have very strong interests.  I have normal interests.  Other people are wishy-washy and don’t stick with things long enough to actually know anything about it.  Or at least that’s what I would’ve said before I realized that I’m autistic and they are considered normal.  Now I guess I’d say that compared to THEIR definition, I have strong interests.  But why do I have to use their definition to define myself? And since they are asking autistics, shouldn’t they ask it as if the autistic considers themselves the measure of things rather than the rest of the world?

–Yeah, I think this should say, “Do other people seem wishy-washy and unable to focus on one interest long enough to do anything with it?”

I enjoy social chitchat.

–Definite no

–Hate it

–No way

–Hey!  They finally found one we can agree on.

–But isn’t that diagnostic of introverts rather than autistics?

–Oh yeah, probably everyone who is introverted would answer the same as us.  Specific but not sensitive.

When I talk, it isn’t always easy for others to get a word in edgewise.

–I wouldn’t notice.

–I have the opposite problem.  I can’t keep up except with people like you all who make sure I have the space.

–But once you start, you just keep talking.

–No, I don’t think I do that, but you certainly do.

–Like I said, I wouldn’t notice.  I don’t either of you notice that you do it. We all do but we don’t realize it, so again, not a good question.  Maybe instead it should ask if people rudely interrupt you when you’re in the middle of a thought.

I am fascinated by numbers.

–Ugh.  It’s another one of those specific interest things.

–Well, I’m fascinated by numbers.  So I’d say yes to that.

–Okay, so that works for one of us.

–Aren’t you fascinated by numbers, too?

–Not in general, just specific ones.  Like palindromic or prime or whatever.  So I’d say no.

When I’m reading a story, I find it difficult to work out the characters’ intentions.

–Nope, I don’t have any problem with it all.

–Do you work out the characters’ intentions?

–Nope, that’s why I don’t find it difficult.  Why bother? Just read the story!

–Besides, authors always spell it all out for you.

–Well, and who would know if they can’t do it…it’s another one of those things that you don’t know that can’t do if you can’t. 

I don’t particularly enjoy reading fiction.

–I love fiction!  I read almost nothing but historical fiction. But I think we’re supposed to prefer non-fiction.

–Sci fi is my favorite.  They say that sci fi is often written and enjoyed by autistics.

–I don’t really read much.

–I like reading about electronics but I also enjoy Wodehouse [humor]

–So are we supposed to like fiction or not?

–Maybe they mean just like novels?  Chick lit type stuff?

–No, they don’t say that.

I find it hard to make new friends.

–Of course, but that’s an introvert thing, not just an autistic thing.

–Agreed.

–Before I started in my social skills group in high school, I thought I had tons of friends.  Everyone was my friend.  Then I found out that neurotypicals had criteria for friends and I found out I didn’t have any at all.

–Oh man, that sucks!

–Wow, at least I always knew I didn’t have any friends. 

–Yeah, but it was good to find out because then I found my people and I made real friends.  That was a lot better.  Otherwise, I’d still think I made friends easily but not actually have anyone who cared about me. [silent contemplation for a moment]

I notice patterns in things all the time.

–Everything!

–Yes, there are so many patterns.

–I’m not as visual.  I notice systems more than patterns.  So I’d say no to that except I think a neurotypical would think I should say yes.

–Then say no.  You’re the one filling this out.

I would rather go to the theater than to a museum.

–Of course!  I love ballet so much!  It’s my special interest.

–It depends what museum.  There are some really dumb museums out there.

–Theaters are too loud and crowded and museums are full of other people’s interests.  Neither.

–There are too many people at both of them but it may be worth it depending on what museum and what theater.

It does not upset me if my daily routine is disturbed.

–I don’t have a daily routine.  Now if someone messes with one of the routines I do have…

–I have kids so I’ve learned to just deal.  I don’t like it but I’m not upset.

–That doesn’t really make any sense, though.  Doesn’t everyone get upset if their daily routine is disturbed?  I mean, show me a person who doesn’t mind if they get up and find out they are out of coffee or there’s no hot water… So I’d say no, I don’t get any more disturbed than any other person.

I frequently find that I don’t know how to keep a conversation going.

–Depends.  Introvert or not, hyperverbal or not.  Move on.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

I find it easy to “read between the lines” when someone is talking to me.

–What a weird question.  I mean, I’ve learned what that means in social skills but why would you use a metaphor to ask a question to a group of people who are notoriously confused by metaphors?

–Yeah, that’s really funny.  Like, why not ask the question in French and let me randomly guess the answer.

I usually concentrate more on the whole picture, rather than on the small details.

–How would I know? My wife complains that I focus on small details but I don’t even see the big picture versus the small details so I would just skip that one.  Isn’t the big picture made up of a bunch of small details anyway?

–Yeah, that requires a high level of self awareness.  Robin [resident neurotypical], do you know if you focus on whole picture or small details?

–No, no idea.  I feel like I look at all of it.  Big picture and details.

–Yeah, me too.

–Don’t we all feel like we look at all of it?  I think it’s the neurotypical who is lacking the self awareness that they aren’t as reasonable as they think they are.

I am not very good at remembering phone numbers.

–Who remembers phone numbers anymore?

–No one.

–Next question.

I don’t usually notice small changes in a situation or a person’s appearance.

–Which way are we supposed to answer?

–I don’t know.  I don’t notice hair cuts or things about people at all but I notice if someone moves furniture just a little.

–I can’t tell one person’s face from another so I notice haircuts, glasses, clothes, how people walk, every little thing.

–I don’t even notice if we get a new sofa.  It all depends if it’s something important to me.

I know how to tell if someone listening to me is getting bored.

–Nope

–Yup, they wander off

–They interrupt

–By the time they wander off or interrupt, they’ve been bored a long time.  So a neurotypical would want you to put “definitely no” if that’s your first sign.

–Smarty pants, showing off everything you learned in social skills group. [laughing]

–Well I’m just saying, they would probably say that you can’t tell if someone is getting bored even though you say that you can so the question is flawed.  If you can’t tell, you probably can’t tell that you can’t tell.  You know?

I find it easy to do more than one thing at once.

–Male vs female.  Moving on.

–Hey, this is getting boring.  There’s a problem with basically every question and they fall into the same categories over and over. 

–Yeah, thinking like a neurotypical while asking questions to an autistic, being too specific, having questions that could be true for anyone or where either end is common among autistics.

–Basically the whole questionnaire is a stereotype of what neurotypicals think autistics are like.

Summary: An autism test written with a neurotypical-centric approach only shows that it’s the people writing the test who are lacking self awareness.

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