Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Fuck it, I’m taking the autism test

The Daily Mail showed the true colours of its journalistic integrity by publishing a test for autism. Check out the URL, by the way, what’s that all about?

The DM summarises the test in its usual one-sentence paragraphs:

Do you struggle in social situations, hate making small talk and changes in routine?

These are all key questions in a quiz designed to identify symptoms autism and its milder form, Asperger syndrome.

Psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen and his colleagues at Cambridge's Autism Research Centre created the Autism-Spectrum Quotient as a measure of the extent of autistic traits in adults.

This quiz below contains 50 simple multiple choice questions about your outlook on life - judged by how much you agree with certain statements.

The Daily Mail certainly has its eye on the ball.  Baron-Cohen proposed his ideas (and the quiz) in 2001 so there has been ample time for criticism of the test and some of Baron-Cohen’s later work, which the DM seems to have ignored.  One criticism of the test is from Neroacientist Francesca Happé, who doubts that self-evaluation via questionnaire is a sound basis for diagnosis [1]. This seems rather like asking putative psychopaths to fill in a questionnaire based on Bob Hare’s psychopath test.  The outcome would rather depend on the intent and potential consequences of the test, wouldn’t it?  It’s also been argued that “rigorous studies are still missing.” [1]

I’m not qualified to judge but my arsehole-sense is tingling.  A 50 question test for a complex, dynamic, highly varying condition of unknown cause is automatically dubious and sure as shit better be backed by high quality evidence.  As far as I can tell, this test isn’t.  Nobody takes it seriously as a diagnostic test.  Perhaps it was never intended as a diagnostic test.

But the DM seems to think it’s important, so who am I to argue?  Ima take the test:

Time required: 7 minutes(!)

First, I’m supposed to tell the quiz things about my location, age, gender and occupation.  This has nothing to do with the quiz, I’m told.  It’s to calculate ‘national totals’.  O….kay…. National totals of what?  For whom?  How else is this data going to be used?  Is paranoia like this going to be the subject of one of the questions on the quiz?  Either way, I’m going with ‘prefer not to say’.

Question 1: Do you believe that Autism is more common now than in previous generations?

  • I do think it’s more common
  • I believe it’s more well known rather than more common
  • I think it’s about the same as in the past
  • Prefer not to answer

I’m already suspicious.  Unless this test is a lot more subtle than I’d expect from 50 questions (which can be answered in 7 minutes) then I’m not sure what this has to do with my being diagnosed as autistic.

My actual answer is that I don’t know.  There isn’t a box for that.  On balance, I think I have to go with option 2, even though that doesn’t accurately express my views.  I’m already wondering whether agonising about such apparently banal questions is itself a marker for autism.


Oh wait… Apparently that wasn’t question 1.  It was question zero. Designed to harvest information for reasons we’re not told by people we do not know.  Good job I lied about all the personal information. All they know is that someone 984 years old chose option 2.


Actual question 1: I prefer to do things with others rather than on my own.

  • Definitely agree
  • Slightly agree
  • Slightly disagree
  • Definitely disagree

I’m stuck again.  I prefer reading and thinking by myself but prefer having sex with other people present.  I prefer telling people off on the Internet, but praising people in person. I understand that I’m supposed to somehow pick my typical response to varied situations, but there isn’t one.  As much as I love reading alone, I’d usually rather be having sex with someone else. Unless I’m tired or really interested in what I’m reading.  Depends.

I’ll go with option 2.  I enjoy being alone for longish periods of time.  But none of the responses accurately describe my answer to the question.

Question 2: I prefer to do things the same way over and over again.

I prefer to do things the same way if that way works.  I tend to leave my house by the door rather than tunnelling out under next door’s garden with a spoon.  I tend to stop stroking my cat when she starts twitching her tail in that particular way. But I change my definition of what ‘works’ means according to the situation.  There’s a particular parking spot in our local supermarket. It is the ideal distance between the supermarket door and the trolley park and nobody ever parks in it or the adjacent space because there’s a lamp post between the two. But if someone were parked in ‘my’ spot I’d park somewhere else without worry or complaint.

I suspect the question is poorly phrased.  I’m going to assume it means “I prefer to do things the same way over and over again regardless of evidence that there’s a better way or that my way is shit.”  Or perhaps “I suffer fairly severe anxiety when I’m prevented from doing things the same way.”

In which case I’m going to answer Definitely Disagree,

Question 3: If I try to imagine something, I find it very easy to create a picture in my mind.

Definitely agree although the answer is again inaccurate.  I don’t feel like I choose to make the picture, the picture is part of the way that I understand.,,whatever apparently vague hypothetical thing the question is asking. While someone is asking me a question, my mind is building a representation of it, often somewhat or highly visual.  Sometimes it’s a collection of different visual images with more or less fuzzy connections between them, which are themselves sometimes but not always visual.

I suppose I have to go with Definitely Agree,

Question 4: I frequently get so strongly absorbed in one thing that I lose sight of other things.

I think I do the opposite. I try to understand everything in a wider context, sometimes including occasions where there is none. 

So I’m going to answer the question literally and say defo disagree even though it seems to me that absorption in a wider context sounds similar to that in detail.  Also, I’m obsessed with detail.  Not in particular details, but in the concept of detail,  People should care about details!  So… 4 then. Definitely disagree, I guess,]

Question 5: I often notice small sounds when others do not.

I have no idea.  I neither agree nor disagree.  How would I know?  But I need to put an answer so Slightly Disagree it is.

Question 6: I usually notice car number plates or similar strings of information.

I… notice information.  Some of the information I notice is similar to car number plates. Experience tells me that I notice more things about visual scenes and displays of behaviour than most but that I’m almost blind in other ways.  My notice is very much guided by experience and training.  I can look at a big piece of code and predict where bugs are likely to be.

So I don’t understand the question. I notice number plates and especially unusual ones. I find them tedious but slightly more interesting than the car they are nailed to, in most cases.

I think I’m going for definitely agree even though the only thing I really agree on is that the question is stupid.

Question 7: Other people frequently tell me that what I've said is impolite, even though I think it is polite.

Definitely agree but ‘other people’ in my case means about two people.  If it were 29 people, the answer would be more significant, wouldn’t it?


Question 8: When I'm reading a story, I can easily imagine what the characters might look like.

I can but I don’t. I couldn’t care less what they look like unless it is relevant to the story.

Definitely agree.

Question 9: I am fascinated by dates.

The fruits are fascinating. The space-time coordinates not at all. Definitely disagree.

Question 10: In a social group, I can easily keep track of several different people's conversations.

Def agree, But I rarely want to.

Question 11: I find social situations easy.

All situations are social.  Some are easier than others. I *hate* going to certain events – regardless of whether I enjoyed them last time,

But I am the life and soul of other events.

I don’t find that easy, so I’m saying def disagree

Question 12; I tend to notice details that others do not.

Yes, but they tend to be things nobody else cares about. Def yes.

Question 13: I would rather go to a library than to a party

Stupid question. I never go anywhere without my library and if I get bored of a party I read.   I’d rather go to the party but I reserve the right to find a place to read. I won’t be alone. Let’s say slightly disagree.

Question 14: I find making up stories easy

Def agree.

Question 15: I find myself drawn more strongly to people than to things.

Drawn? I’m attracted toward things when and because I can DO things with them. I’m attracted to people for completely different reasons. I’m drawn to build things because they might help people.

My immediate interest is in what i can do to help people but my expertise is in things. So lets say slightly agree with the things category.

Question 16: I tend to have very strong interests, which I get upset about if I can't pursue.



Right, I’m done. I’m going to answer the rest of the questions honestly and without comment and post the answer:




[1] Buchen, Lizzie (November 2011). "Scientists and autism: When geeks meet". Nature 479 (7371): 25–7.doi:10.1038/479025a. PMID 22051657.

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