As autism spectrum disorder becomes more widely understood, tools such as an online test for Asperger Syndrome can be useful for getting an initial idea of the possible presence of the disorder in an individual. Some people in the "geek" subculture even take it as a badge of honor, locking onto the common characteristics such as a higher-than-average IQ as reasons they might want to have Aspergers. Unfortunately, this can trivialize a serious medical condition into a mere excuse for social awkwardness - which is why sites such as OK Cupid (a dating site) has an online test for Asperger Syndrome.
How Reliable is an Online Test for Asperger Syndrome?
No online test should be considered a substitute for actual diagnosis by a licensed psychiatrist. While there are many resources to help with other aspects of Aspergers and other autistic disorders, actual diagnosis requires more than simply taking a multiple-choice questionnaire. Many other tools are used to diagnose Aspergers, including parental interviews, patient history, and skills in the social, communications, and behavioral areas. Other tests such as the autism diagnostic observation schedule (ADOS) make it easier for doctors to determine if a person actually has Asperger Syndrome.
A researcher at Cambridge's Autism Research Center, psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen, created what is known as the Autism-Spectrum Quotient, popularly known as the "AQ," designed as an introductory diagnostic tool. A series of 50 questions, they include many that obviously reflect some of the characteristics of Asperger Syndrome such as difficulty paying attention, difficulty with empathic feelings, and social awkwardness:
- "I often notice small sounds when others do not."
- "When I'm reading a story, I find it difficult to work out the characters' intentions."
- "When I talk on the phone, I'm not sure when it's my turn to speak."
Each of these questions is answered by a range of agreement, from "Strongly Disagree" to "Strongly Agree." The entire test is then calculated with a total score using Dr. Baron-Cohen's algorithm. In the first clinical trial, the average score was 16.4, which became a baseline of "normalcy." However, 80% of the people who scored 32 or higher were diagnosed with autism or a related disorder. The Autism Research Center is quick to note that many people who score 32 or higher, and even have other characteristics of Asperger, have no problems functioning socially for their entire lives.
Finding a Test Online
Because it is a simple multiple choice test, many people have recreated Simon Baron-Cohen's original test and put it online with web interfaces that will calculate (and even interpret) the test results. One of the more reliable sources was a WIRED Magazine article written in December of 2001. Aside from being a respected publication, it also gives the option of printing, emailing, or faxing the test off the site.
An example of the test being re-purposed by an individual, the Pie Palace, a Canadian website, has created an online version of the test that seems identical to the test printed in another publication - the Globe and Mail, a Canadian newspaper. Many other versions of the test (such as the OK Cupid one listed above) also exist on the web.
Other psychologists caution putting too much stock into even Baron-Cohen's test. Because there is a lot of research being done on all autism spectrum disorders, new discoveries and treatments are happening all the time, and even the DSM IV, a volume of diagnoses used by medical practitioners and insurance companies alike, has not been updated since 1994. Sometimes what someone thinks might be Aspergers Syndrome is simply shyness, phobia, or some other mood disorder such as Attention Deficit Disorder or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
As long as they aren't taken to be more than a simple mental exercise to make people think about their behaviors, these tests can be a great way to spread awareness of Asperger Syndrome.