Yeah, look. I am a weird person. I know this. I have my quirks, idiosyncrasies, tics, and peccadillos. I do not really need a Facebook test to tell me this. And yet. Do you know the Autism Spectrum Quotient test that has been making the rounds on Facebook? If you haven’t seen it, here is the same exact test hosted by Wired. In their words,
Psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen and his colleagues at Cambridge’s Autism Research Centre have created the Autism-Spectrum Quotient, or AQ, as a measure of the extent of autistic traits in adults. In the first major trial using the test, the average score in the control group was 16.4. Eighty percent of those diagnosed with autism or a related disorder scored 32 or higher. The test is not a means for making a diagnosis, however, and many who score above 32 and even meet the diagnostic criteria for mild autism or Asperger’s report no difficulty functioning in their everyday lives.
In other words, the lower your score on this test, the fewer Autistic-type traits you have. Most of the Facebook friends I have who shared their scores in their newsfeeds had below-average scores. They ranged from 6-11, far below the control group average of 16. Several folks marveled at the low numbers, wondering what it meant. To me, that’s like complaining about moving into a higher tax bracket or receiving too many compliments. Hey, look at just how much I am not hampered by a developmental neurological disorder! Don’t hate me for being awesome!
I didn’t need to use the Facebook app to test myself, however. I came across this test years ago and have taken it maybe 3-4 times over the years. My score ranges a bit, depending on how I feel about certain things on certain days. Do I “definitely agree” or only “slightly agree” with a given statement? On questions where I just don’t know or can’t decide, is that a “slightly agree” or a “slightly disagree”?
In my most pleasant, most sociable, most open-minded and kind moods, I still score in the upper 30s. Today I got a 42.
That means that even on my best days, I still score well over 32, the number above which “eighty percent of those diagnosed with autism or a related disorder scored.” Thank goodness that “many who score above 32 […] report no difficulty functioning in their everyday lives.” Well then.
Do I experience difficulty functioning in my everyday life? No, not really. But at the same time, yeah, I do. Sometimes. I don’t enjoy social occasions or chit-chat or making new friends AT ALL. Every single one of those questions received a “definitely” answer from me. For example, the very first question: “I prefer to do things with others rather than on my own.” Uh, definitely fucking disagree. I am hard pressed to think of anything I would prefer to do with others. Mind drawing a blank here.
Of course I do have a few dear, dear friends in life with whom I genuinely enjoy spending time. Not many, but I have some — you know I talk about them here. With those few people, being social and spending time together is not tiring. With others, though, people I haven’t known for that long or don’t know that well, it is. It is mentally and emotionally exhausting, no matter how fond I am of them. And I really am genuinely fond of so many people — it’s mainly exhausting, I think, not because I don’t like them but because I try really hard. So for the most part, I prefer the bliss of solitude. Especially when the alternative involves friends I’m not that close with, friendly acquaintances, or — worst of all — strangers.
Many of the questions are designed to interrogate the test-taker on this particular issue: are you a social person? Can you get along with others, interpret social cues and facial expressions, make chit chat? I answered according to the true feelings inside me, but my behavior probably doesn’t really reflect those feelings. I do participate in social occasions (I haven’t spent a weekend alone in I don’t know how long). I go out, meet people, make friends, chat. I try to interpret tone and facial expressions. Like most of us, I have learned the conversational cues that tell me when it’s my turn to speak and I (at least think I) understand when someone is trying to end a conversation or is bored listening to me. Sort of. It’s kind of a guessing game, to be honest.
Alcohol helps. But then if I drink more than two drinks it is almost impossible to stop me from talking, on and on, about my own topic of interest, regardless of the relative interest of the person I have managed to trap in conversation. “AND ANOTHER THING,” I’ll intone, completely ignoring the other person. And we are right back where we started, with me all not knowing how to relate or respond to other people on a basic social level.
In life I occasionally have moments of interaction that feel genuine, artless, uncontrived. Moments of real connection. And they are rare and precious indeed in a sea of other practiced, formulated, constructed interactions that result from decades of learned social behavior patterns.
Beyond all this, though, there is another really fascinating question. Every time I have taken the test, I answer this one the same way: “I would rather go to the theater than to a museum.” Oh, no. DEFINITELY DISAGREE.
This question encapsulates the whole entire issue for me. Theater vs Museum. I love the museum and would always, 100% of the time, any day of the week, always and forever, choose the museum over the theater. What I suspect this has to do with the AQ test is this: the theater is a social space. You go there to watch a performance. The actors engage with the audience in a certain way, performing and acting. They have to pretend to be someone else. The theater makes me incredibly uncomfortable to begin with, but there are two things that can make it just pray-for-death excruciating: 1) if the actors come out into the audience, ask for audience participation, dance down the aisles, or otherwise “break the fourth wall,” and 2) if the actors use their special, loud, I’m-on-a-stage performance voices, where they enunciate every syllable too clearly and elongate the vowels unnecessarily and speak in an artificially weird cadence, for they are ac-TORRRS on the STAAAAGE. Oh god, I die now just thinking about it. I even hate the word “performance.”
The museum, on the other hand, is a wonderful space. It is clean and quiet and well-lit and it contains art and artifacts neatly categorized and organized and displayed. It houses objects and items people have made. It does not foster human interactions. Everyone is silent, neatly avoiding one another as we slide from one item to the next in wordless contemplation. I love a museum.
So I just keep trucking through life, avoiding the theater when I can and staying home when I can and trying to read between the lines of a conversation when I can. And when I can’t I just have to say “I don’t know what you are trying to tell/ask me. Is it _________?” (Yes, I literally said that to someone in conversation the other day, and asked it in an email just yesterday.) I know how to function in my everyday life, thankyouverymuch, stupid test.
But what about you? Museum or theater? Do you know your score on this thing? Can you make me feel less ridiculous?