Those Self-diagnostic Tests

I became aware of the subject of autism very late in life. In the course of trying to determine whether the characteristics that had always set me apart and given me problems were signs of autism or just me being weird, I took several online self-diagnostic tests. And for a long time, they just complicated the problem of whether I was or wasn’t on the spectrum. Every test said that I was barely on it, nearly as neurotypical as autistic.

Why did I persist in my search until I was sure, one way or the other? Not to be part of a group, not to be officially recognized. Not to add to my already numerous physical and mental problems, to see myself as a collection of disabilities. It was to better understand who I was and what had made me the person I became, and, possibly, stop blaming myself for traits that are inherent in my makeup. To better understand them so that I might find ways to ameliorate some of the problems, as far as that’s possible.

I now understand that there was an important factor keeping me close to the edge on those tests. I answered the questions as the adult I was at the time rather than the child or adolescent I once was. The importance of maturity is mentioned now and then, in articles, but it isn’t given as much emphasis as it deserves. Depending on intelligence and the severity of the traits, we gradually learn ways of coping with our differences from the norm, not all of which have to be viewed as disabilities.

If you are an older adult with a high IQ you have a lifetime of learning and adapting behind you. Add to that, the design flaws of many tests, not just those concerned with autism. One major flaw is that most tests force you to make choices that don’t in any way reflect your personal reality. I can go all the way back to high school in my memories to support this. On a job aptitude test that all students were forced to take each question had two choices: either this or that. Every question had to be answered. The result was that I supposedly had an aptitude for and would work best at a job that, in actuality, I would have hated and eventually rebelled against.

Why did this happen? Because the test was oriented to the standard jobs that the majority of people do, in fact, work at. There were no choices that would allow for creativity of any kind, certainly not the desire and ability to create your own job. No entrepreneurship, no chance of opting out of the pervasive work ethic and doing something else altogether.

In the same way, most self-diagnostic tests for autism force choices based on assumptions. – does take account of changes with maturity. But it also forces yes or no answers to poorly stated questions. A typical example is “It is difficult to figure out what other people expect of me.” You can’t answer sometimes; the choices are never, now and when I was young, only now, or only when I was young. Is a failure to understand caused by your supposed disability or because the other person hasn’t made it clear what they want from you? The assumption is that failure is an outcome of a disability. I retested myself on this one quite recently, and came out barely on the spectrum, just as I did when I took it several years ago. It was designed by Simon Baron-Cohen and his colleagues at the Cambridge Autism Research Centre, and allows for the fact that whatever problem you might have you don’t necessarily have it all the time. But it is entirely present-oriented. “I am…” “I enjoy…” And that’s the crux of the problem. It tests for who you are now as if you never learned anything over the years about how to manage the factors it asks about.

If you are intelligent, analytical, and self-aware, you will have found ways to avoid problem areas, or to compensate for them. Which means that if you’re taking this particular test or one like it, you will get a more accurate score if you answer as if you are much younger, before you learned, either with assistance or on your own, how to work around the “disabilities.” Not that it will be completely accurate if the test requires you to answer every question. Why not? Because you probably won’t remember what certain things were like when you were younger. For instance: Question 3. If I try to imagine something, I find it very easy to create a picture in my mind. Today, I would slightly agree. But I have no memories about that kind of thing from earlier in my life.

Self-tests can be useful, but they may not be completely accurate. Proceed with caution and common sense.


4 thoughts on “Those Self-diagnostic Tests

  1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

    I had the same experience with the Myers-Briggs tests: by the time I took them, I had made accommodations and adjusted to be at least minimally competent in my deficient areas, so they measured nothing.

    Plus they’re horribly worded!

    My daughter took MBI in college, and said it was useful – she was around 20 at the time.

    The most important part is whether you decide – and whether that provides useful insight to living your life – as any genetic decisions are long past us. I had three kids by the time the question came up.

    I’m glad you’re focusing on these topics, as I’d like to learn (and will try to mostly listen, not comment).

    PS The link from the other blog isn’t live (you may have done that on purpose, but just in case you didn’t). Cut-and-paste works fine.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Catana Post author

    Very strange — I had to approve your comment. WP does mess up that way, sometimes. The two links to the test sites are both live, so I’m not sure what the reference to “the other blog” is about.

    The Myers-Briggs categories have a little more backing than astrological sun signs, but can just as easily be abused. Like you, I’d made my own accomodations and knew myself pretty well, so the test didn’t tell me anything new. For those still looking for themselves, some of the results might be revelatory, or they might serve as a straight jacket to fit into. And, of course, they are always being used as a form of group identity, when they actually aren’t.

    Liked by 3 people

      1. Catana Post author

        I have mine set that way too, but forgot about it until later. I’ve had some good conversations about blog posts, including with you. And sometimes, they wander off in unexpected directions.


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