This is something I have been thinking about for a while, but it was this post on The Silent Wave that prompted me to sit down and write it all up. The post talks about AQ test scores going up after self-discovery as autistic, hence the title ‘More autistic’ after Aspergers/autism diagnosis/discovery?
The AQ test will get its own post from me in due course, although my scores there have been remarkably consistent. I took it first about 10 years ago, and have taken it multiple times since, and the results were, in summary: lowest ever score 32, highest ever score 36, most frequent score 34, most recent score (a few days ago) 35. Not much change there then.
However, it is when taking the Aspie Quiz that I have noticed the phenomenon of becoming ‘more autistic’ over time, and that’s what I want to talk about here. (You probably all know it, but this is what I’m talking about.)
I first took the Aspie Quiz in October 2015, and the result was an almost 50/50 split between Aspie and NT: Aspie score 102/200, NT score 105/200. Well, I thought, I’m neurotypical after all, must be imagining things. I pushed it away at first, but as you know, the story didn’t end there.
I took the quiz again exactly a year later. The result was slightly more skewed towards neurodiverse traits, but still pretty much divided down the middle: Aspie score 114/200, NT score 101/200. “You seem to have both neurodiverse and neurotypical traits” the test pointed out, unhelpfully. I was actually getting quite worried by this. You see, by this time I had seriously started to suspect that I might be autistic, but the test didn’t bear this out. One of my biggest fears (and I’m bound to revisit this topic in the future) is that I will turn out to be “a bit autistic”, i.e. have some autistic traits, but at a “subclinical” level. Or, in other words, that I will fall under the “Broader Autism Phenotype”. I really fear that this is going to be the result, should I ever present myself for some kind of official assessment. I think that might even be worse than to be told “no, you’re neurotypical after all”. Why? Because it would leave me exactly nowhere. I know I’m not NT enough to belong with the NTs, but if I’m not autistic enough to belong with the autistics either, I’ll be out on my own. No tribe to belong to. I fall into the crack between and disappear. I’d be back to being weird and lazy, because I would never know which bits of me are autistic and which bits are just me being strange.
But enough of that for now, I wanted to talk about the quiz. Not content with being told “you are both or neither”, I took the quiz again in February this year, and what do you know? Aspie score 123/200, NT score 84/200. “You are very likely neurodiverse (Aspie)”. Ha!
Just to make sure this wasn’t a fluke, I took it again about 5 minutes before writing this, with 122/200 for Aspie and 75/200 for NT. So what has happened? Has my autism discovery made me more autistic? Or maybe I’m deliberately exaggerating my answers so that the result will fit in with my preferred narrative? As to the last one, I didn’t look at my previous answers when taking the test again, so purposeful fakery is not involved. But something must have changed. I can think of a few things.
First of all, I don’t know if this has any bearing on the result, but before you take the test, you have to answer questions about your age, ancestry, country etc. and also your “neuro status” if you like. The first two times I entered myself as NT, but the last two times as suspected/self-diagnosed Aspie. But like I said, I don’t know if that makes any difference to the scoring.
Secondly, while I’m probably not “more autistic”, I’ve been watching myself much more closely these past few months, and I noticed things about myself that I hadn’t before, and that is reflected in my answers. Example: The quiz asks “Do you rock back&forth, or side-to-side (e.g. for comfort, to calm yourself, when excited or overstimulated?” A year ago I would have answered “no”. In the meantime, however, I’ve caught myself doing it many times (very gently, it has to be said), so that answer changed to a “yes”. I could find other examples from the test which would all have changed the score.
There is a third factor, and in a way I might have “made” myself “more autistic”, because the questions are often difficult to interpret, and I’m now more likely to interpret them in such a way (and answer them accordingly) that it drives the Aspie score up and the NT score down. This is not the same as not giving honest answers, but it is the nature of these quizzes that often there is more than one way to be honest. Actually, I think previously I have taken the questions too literally, and only when I started not to take them so literally did my Aspie score go up. There’s irony for you. I think it might be worth giving a few examples of what I mean, which will also illustrate how difficult it is to take these tests at all.
“Do you tend to get so absorbed by your special interests that you forget or ignore anything else?”
Well, sadly I haven’t had a really special special interest for some time. However, I will certainly get lost in a good book, so much so that I don’t notice that my hands are getting colder and colder, and any requests from my body to go to the toilet get shut down. Likewise I can get absorbed in a TV programme I enjoy, and I just watch and never reach for snacks or a drink or anything. So, with that perspective in mind, I answered “yes”.
“Are you sometimes afraid in safe situations?”
What does that mean? No, I don’t feel actual fear in a safe situation. But is there a certain level of anxiety even in the absence of any actual danger? Yes, all the time. So I answered “yes, often”. On another day I might have interpreted the question differently, concluded that I’m not “afraid” and answered “no”.
“Do you have problems with timings in conversations?”
This is one where until recently I thought “who, me? no”. I don’t monopolize the conversation nor do I interrupt people. But I’ve observed how conversations actually go, and a different picture emerged. In a one-on-one conversation I’d still say I don’t have any problems. But as soon as the number goes up to three people or more, I don’t really know when it’s my turn to talk. I’m fairly quiet anyway – people often say to me “you never say anything!” Sometimes I can’t think of anything to say. But sometimes when I do have a contribution to make, I wait for an opening to come out with it. Often that opening never comes, the conversation moves on, and soon whatever I wanted to say is irrelevant. If that’s not a “problem with timing” I don’t know what is.
“Do you tend to interpret things literally?”
On previous occasions I took this question literally (hor hor) and answered “no”. I know perfectly well what it means when someone “throws in the towel”, and don’t expect to see any actual flannels flung. But is there another meaning to literally? Because when people talk to me, I tend to take what they say at face value. I never assume they are lying or try to figure out a hidden meaning. I assume that what I see (or rather hear) is what I get. With that interpretation in mind, I answered “yes, often”, no doubt gaining Aspie points in the process.
There are a few more examples I could mention, but I won’t bore you with them. Answering these quizzes with 100% honesty is actually impossible, because you can’t ask the quiz what exactly the question means, and neither can you explain what exactly you mean by your answer.
In summary, I think it’s fair to say that since thinking of myself as possibly autistic, I have gained a different perspective on myself and my behaviour. I notice things I didn’t notice before, simply because I started looking. I see things in a different light. And that is what produces the change in result.
More autistic? I doubt it. More self-aware? Very much so.
(Image: the graph from my most recent Aspie Quiz result. Yes, I always get that spike into Neurotypical territory for communication.)