Autism Spectrum Quotient

The Autism Spectrum Quotient, or AQ, was a questionnaire first published in 2001 by Simon Baron-Cohen and his colleagues at the Autism Research Centre in Cambridge, UK. This questionnaire consisted of fifty questions, the goal was to determine the statistical relationship between an adult considered to be of normal intelligence, and to what extent they show the traits associated with autism spectrum conditions.

This questionnaire was popularised even more when it was published by Wired Magazine in December 2001, alongside their article, "The Geek Syndrome".  The Autism Spectrum Quotient is commonly, though probably incorrectly, used for the self diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome.

The test consisted of fifty questions or statements, each of which was in a forced-choice format. Each question allowed the respondent to indicate "Definitely agree", "Slightly agree", "Slightly disagree" or "Definitely disagree". Approximately half the questions are worded to elicit an "agree" response from normal individuals, and half to elicit a "disagree" response. The respondent is then scored one point for each question which is answered "autistically" either slightly or definitely.

The questions covered the five different domains linked with the autism spectrum: attention to detail; social skills; imagination; communication skills; and attention switching/and tolerance to change.

The Autism Spectrum Quotient , Used as a diagnostic tool

During the initial trials of the Autism Spectrum Quotient , the average score in the control group was 16.4, with the men scoring slightly higher than the women (about 17 versus about 15). 80% of adults diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders scored 32 or more, compared with only 2% of the control group.

The authors of the Autism Spectrum Quotient cited a score of 32 or more as indicating "clinically significant levels of autistic traits".  Although the test is commonly used for self-diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome, the authors of the Autism Spectrum Quotient caution that it is not intended to be used as a diagnostic tool, and advise anyone who does take the test and obtains a high score and is suffering some distress over this, should seek professional medical advice before coming to any conclusions.

A follow up research paper also showed that the questionnaire could be used for screening in clinical practice, and that scores of 26 or lower showing that a diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome could be ruled out.

The questionnaire was given to Cambridge University students, as well as sixteen winners of the British Mathematical Olympiad.  This was done to help determine if there was a connection between a talent for the mathematical and scientific studies, and the traits found to be connected to the autism spectrum.

Physical Science, Mathematics, as well as the Engineering Students, scored significantly higher, e.g. 21.8 on average for math student and 21.4 for the computer scientist. The average score for the British Mathematical Olympiad winners was the highest, at 24.

Eleven of the students who scored 32 or more on the test, did agree to be interviewed.  Seven of these were determined to meet the DSM-IV criteria for Asperger Syndrome.

For more information about autism and the autistic community be sure to check out the resources available at answers-about-autism.

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