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What is the Autism Spectrum Quotient?

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  • Written By: Laura Metz
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 11 September 2016
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The Autism Spectrum Quotient (AQ) is one of several clinical psychology tests that studies autistic traits. Simon Baron-Cohen, along with other researchers at the Autism Research Centre in Cambridge, England, published the questionnaire in 2001 to gather information on autism as a spectrum disorder. The test consists of 50 statements designed to shed light on the behaviors most affected by autism. Most adults who have been diagnosed with any autism spectrum disorder score more than 30 on the test, and those that have not typically score less than 20. The questionnaire is not designed to be a diagnostic tool.

The 50 statements on the Autism Spectrum Quotient deal with several areas. Poor social and communication skills are typically evident in adults who have autism spectrum disorders, and many statements deal with spending time with others, understanding people’s motives and making friends. Other statements concern attention to detail and love of routines. For every question, the test-taker is supposed to check “definitely agree,” “slightly agree,” “slightly disagree” or “definitely disagree.”

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The scoring of the Autism Spectrum Quotient is very simple. One point is awarded for “definitely agree” or “slightly agree” on any statement that a person with autism would probably agree. Then one point is awarded for any “definitely disagree” or “slightly disagree” answer on the other statements with which a person with autism would usually disagree. During the first testing phase, women without a diagnosed autism spectrum disorder scored an average of 15, whereas men averaged 17. Those diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome or high-functioning autism scored about 35.

Later, the Autism Spectrum Quotient was used to analyze college mathematics students to see whether they had a higher score than the control group. In fact, math majors averaged 21.8, more than five points higher than the average. People who have autism spectrum disorders tend to be drawn to the fields of math and science more than others, perhaps because of the strict routine that can be expected in such a field.

The questionnaire is not a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder, although many adults use it to self-diagnose. The numbers are intended to be averages and are for comparison's sake only. Autism is a spectrum disorder, so some people have some of the symptoms yet have no difficulties functioning. Sometimes those with high-functioning autism do not even go through the trouble of getting a diagnosis. Others will find these same symptoms cause them immense trouble, because they are at the opposite end of the spectrum.

Although the test is not intended to diagnose autism, some doctors use it as a screening device. For instance, if someone scores below a 25 on it, the doctor can rule out autism. In addition, the original Autism Spectrum Quotient was designed for adults. In 2006 and 2007, longer versions were developed for assessing children and adolescents.

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