Wrong with Me

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.

[267/365] The Theatah

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.”

View from the balcony walkway

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?

19 thoughts on “Wrong with Me

  1. clarabella November 2, 2010 / 7:38 pm

    I know we talked about this the other day, but I honestly think it might depend on my day to day life what I answered those questions with. Some days, I DO prefer the theater. Others, the museum. On the whole, I prefer the museum, but when I ask myself why, it isn’t for the same reasons you have, of course. My answer goes right along with how extroverted I am, something about wanting to see other people’s reactions to the exhibits, etc. Anyway, we’ve known for a long time that I’m an extrovert & you’re an introvert, and we make it work. Perhaps, if other people didn’t “perform” so much in day-to-day life (ZING–you like how I used your jargon AND got a hint in to Butler? I am genius. Ha!), you wouldn’t have to ask questions like the one above including the blank. Honestly, I don’t think you should hold yourself responsible for the fact that most people can’t make themselves clear. Hmph.
    Now, I’m off to take that damn test so it can tell me what an extrovert I already know I am & see what it’s all about.

  2. clarabella November 2, 2010 / 7:43 pm

    17.
    So there’s that.

  3. Kate November 2, 2010 / 7:46 pm

    Oh, 17 is about average.

    I think, with the introvert/extrovert thing, I definitely tend to have a lot of extroverted friends. It’s a good balance. Of course I have a couple of people who are introverts like me, too, so there’s no rule really. I think if I counted it up I have more extrovert friends, though.

    I do love your Butler reference. I think people construct all kinds of things through repeated actions (what was the phrase?) not just gender. Interesting stuff.

  4. Danimal November 2, 2010 / 8:27 pm

    I don’t know about this theater/museum nonsense. I have never had a social interaction of any sort at a theater.

    No, I’ve sat there in the dark and watched a bunch of damned extroverts have simulated social interactions where everybody talks like nobody does.

    I’ve had GREAT social interactions in museums. I really dig on hitting a good museum with family or the right group of friends. (Biblewalk, anyone?)

  5. LizScott November 2, 2010 / 8:38 pm

    So this is interesting for me. On the one hand: if I go too long without interaction with people, I get very …down. Lethargic. Not-OK. But! It’s not in my nature to want to be around people; if you ask me what I want to do any given night, my answer is likely: stay in, make dinner.

    Which is not what I need. I need to be around people, interacting. I need this very much, I am energized by it. But my natural inclination is to want to do things by myself: museum, errands, dinner, whatever. I.. I like to do things myself. So I try to balance these things, and push through the anxiety.

    (Also, yes: two glasses of wine is SO my limit of “OMG WOMAN! STOP TALKING STOP TALKING NOW”)

    For what it’s worth: I don’t care that you like museums more than theater. That’s… logical. And makes sense. I just know now that I won’t invite you to go see Guys and Dolls with me, and should we ever travel (in the mythical world where you meet blog commenters), we split off during the day and you hit the museums and other fun things for you and we regroup for wine at the end of the day.

    The ability to articulate these things -what makes people and friends tick- is fascinating and doesn’t seem ridiculous to me at all.

  6. Kate November 2, 2010 / 9:01 pm

    Dan – Oh, that’s definitely just my take on the Museum vs Theater issue. I’m not sure what the author of the test had in mind. I do see the museum as fitting more into the gather/collect/organize behaviors of people with autism or Aspergers, while the theater fits more into the imaginative/performative/interactive qualities those people usually lack. As far as the “interactive” part, I guess I see it as being made to receive what they are putting out, in some way. (Does that even make sense? We have to read the actors’ behaviors and such?) But yeah, that trip to the Biblewalk is definitely one of my favorite museum memories! PLUS I was with all of you guys, who don’t make me feel weird and squirmy.

    Liz – I love the idea of having a world where bloggers and commenters all socialize and hang out, and go to the museum/theater as appropriate and then meet up again to talk at length about our topics of interest, with wine. Wait, I guess that is BlogHer (and similar) only without the panels. Heh. On a more serious note, I do think that if I NEVER saw people, that wouldn’t be right, either. But I’m far more often yearning for a night at home than a night out. I also think my score was on the higher side today because I have been social every weekend since…early summer-ish, without a break, and I am feeling ever more keenly the need for alone time. And (FINALLY) I think that thinking about this kind of thing has been happening more often as I get older and start to figure out my own weird shit a little better. This is a good thing.

    Man I am long-winded today!

  7. Kate November 2, 2010 / 9:08 pm

    Oh, I should note (because I didn’t in the post itself): The test is not intended to diagnose anything, and I definitely do NOT meet the criteria for either autism or Asperger’s.

    Within the test control group, apparently 2% of people had high scores like mine. We crotchety assholes who go to museums, notice strings of data and numbers, and prefer the museum are rare, but, you know, we’re here.

  8. LizScott November 2, 2010 / 9:11 pm

    Heh. Frankly, the idea of traveling with friends where everyone does their own schedule during the day and then regroups at night is my definition of the best vacation ever.

    I hear you on being busy and wanting to hibernate. I go through phases where I plan plan plan and I LOVE it – I have so many great weekends and fun times – but I find myself longing for my house and my couch and some solid “me time”

    But seriously: I need to stop blathering on your blog. Interesting thing to talk about, I think

  9. Ashley November 2, 2010 / 10:23 pm

    I don’t know if this will help but I scored in the 24-26 range both times that I took the test. I wonder how many of the people in the sample group would rate themselves as extroverts. I absolutely prefer the museum!

  10. Kate November 2, 2010 / 10:41 pm

    Liz – Oh, I love it when people blather and discuss! And also, with all the hibernation talk, I think I need to plan a me-weekend sometime soon. HMMM.

    Ashley – That is actually good news! I just have not heard from many people who aren’t either right around the average or WAY below it — most way below. It’s weird how it translates to an introvert-extrovert spectrum among, well, non-autistic people. I am 100% introverted myself, but then I have so many extrovert friends that I think that skews my anecdotal survey here. I score crazy high, and many of my friends score crazy low. And as a statistical note, the person I know who got a 6 is actually a theater prof and VERY extroverted.

  11. Danimal November 3, 2010 / 11:01 am

    I scored 25, fyi.

  12. Katie November 3, 2010 / 11:05 am

    I took a similar test a few years ago and, while I don’t remember my exact score, definitely scored above 32. Like yourself, I hate small talk. I can’t think of anything that makes me more uncomfortable than trying to make conversation with people I don’t give a crap about. I went to a Halloween party on Saturday and barely said a word, except to my friends (but even then, I was pretty quiet). The couple times someone came up to me to ask about my costume, I am sure they came away thinking I was really weird (and possibly stuck up) because I couldn’t keep any sort of conversation. (One guy especially made me really uncomfortable, though a lot of it had to do with the fact that he was talking LIKE THIS when it wasn’t loud at all.) Anyway, just know you’re not the only one!

  13. John November 3, 2010 / 12:44 pm

    Agree: 2,4,5,6,7,9,12,13,16,18,19,20,21,22,23,26,33,35,39,41,42,43,45,46: 1 point
    Disagree: 10,11,14,15,17,24,25,27,29,31,32,34,36,37,38,40,44,47,48,49,50: 1 point
    Score: 45

  14. John November 3, 2010 / 2:38 pm

    A score of 45 is quite interesting as it can be factored into a prime number of prime numbers!

    No wonder I have a problem with booze and people (and not necessarily in that order…)!

  15. Kate November 3, 2010 / 6:34 pm

    Dan – That makes you and Ashley a matched pair! How cute 🙂

    Katie – I am definitely glad to know other normal people score above 32. Also, I so know what you mean about the stuck-up vibe people can sometimes get. Just because a person doesn’t want to chit-chat all the time doesn’t mean we are snobs!

    John – You are the winner! Congratulations! But seriously, you are the first person to “beat” my score, so I am weirdly excited.

  16. John November 4, 2010 / 1:54 pm

    I’m not really sure I’ve actually “won” anything. I’ve had problems all my life being around people, so I’m quite the introvert. I wish it were different as things would probably be easier to some extent. Maybe I’d be more comfortable in social situations and less dependent on booze. The real problem for me is the toll it tends to take on personal relationships. But you already touched on all that.

  17. Sunny D November 5, 2010 / 8:03 am

    I’m right in the middle: I like parties and crowds and don’t notice the number patterns at all, but I definitely have trouble reading people and get overwhelmed by details (especially too many conflicting types of sound).

    One way I can tell that I’m right in the middle is that museum vs. theater thing makes no sense to me, personally. I love both. They are both places where you privately consume art in public.It seems less like apples and oranges than tangerines and oranges. To be honest, I don’t really think about actors as people when they’re acting. They’re not emoting or pretending, they’re just being art. And I talk a blue streak in museums: I like this color, what do you think of that lady’s hat, they have better surrealism at the Art Institute, etc. etc.

    Really I think this is more about metacognition than knowing what’s “wrong with you” though. Hugs to my INJP (right?).

  18. kilowatthour November 6, 2010 / 9:47 pm

    Strangely, I scored an 18 on this test, though I consider myself more of a mid-30s kind of lady. What with the people-hating and all that.

  19. Kate November 8, 2010 / 12:57 pm

    J – Chin up there. A high score just means we are awesome.

    S – Don’t worry, the title is just an Ani DiFranco song. (It’s her “Hey, I am bi, so get used to it” anthem, used completely out of context.) My Myers Briggs thingy is INTJ (“The Mastermind”), which also claims I am basically like Sheldon on Big Bang Theory. SIGH.

    K – You must be a real people-hating specialist, without generalizing out into the Broader Weirdo characteristics. Sounds like a good talent to have!

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