How I beat the autism quizzes

“Oh, shit, do I often notice small sounds when others do not? My writing got all smudgy.”

Ha! Suck it, online quizzes! I win!

Okay, no, I didn’t actually beat the online “Am I autistic?” quizzes. What would be the point of taking the time to take the quizzes while trying to game them? Honestly, I didn’t beat them so much as I took them and found the results unexpectedly lukewarm. The result of my honest responses tended toward “Sure, definitely probably,” and then my eventual results when I was finally formally diagnosed were, “Oh, yeah, for sure as hell.” (I paraphrase.) So why the delta? (I mean, besides the fact that the online quizzes were self-administered and took, like, fifteen minutes, and the formal diagnosis took weeks of interviews and hours of testing by an actual medical professional?)

The delta is the result of 40 years of being autistic and not knowing it. It’s four decades of adaptive behaviors for the purpose of functioning in a neurotypical world, trying my best to appear as neurotypical as possible, and making up for tendencies I didn’t realize everyone else didn’t have. I’m guessing that my results would have been a lot different thirty or even twenty years ago, before my answer to “Do you understand other people’s feelings?” became, “Yeah, I’ve pretty much figured it out by now.”

Because I pretty much have. With effort. And other stuff, too.

(Also: The quizzes aren’t nearly specific enough for someone dedicated to literalism. More about that below.)

Understanding other people

This is one of the primary questions on autism quizzes, and with good reason: It’s one of the primary challenges facing autistic people. Neurotypical people are hard to read (hell, autistic people are hard to read), and understanding their feelings and reactions and such can be tough.

Which is why I’ve put so much effort into it. Through four decades of trial and error, I’ve observed the way people have reacted to things I’ve done, and discerned patterns (‘cause, y’know, autistic people and patterns), and figured out, to at least a minor extent, how they tend to react to different things. Empathy has also been a big part of it — despite the fact that autistic people are stereotyped as non-empathetic, many of us are actually hella empathetic, and I do feel other people’s feelings and can line them up with context clues and my own emotional responses to things and more or less figure out what’s going on. I just, y’know, don’t generally know what to do with the information once I have it. (This also goes for fictional characters. If I can’t figure out a character’s motivations, it’s usually because it’s a poorly written character.)

I also have the advantage, in this area, of a very specific formal education. As an advertising major in college, I took classes on things like consumer sentiment, and learned about messaging and how to understand the market and figure out how to reach them. I literally learned about how different people feel under different circumstances, what they felt and needed and worried about, and how to communicate with them. I learned this in class. With books. Taught by professors.

Obviously, it’s served me well in my advertising career. And it’s served me well in everyday life, too, and the efforts I’ve made to figure people out in everyday life have served me well in my career, and while I can’t say I really understand people’s feelings and responses and motivations and such, at least I can say I’ve come to figure them out, if I try. It takes work, but at this point, it’s also become second nature to do my best in that area, so is it difficult, really? If the task is challenging, but you’ve become adept at it?

So yeah, my response to “I find it difficult to work out people’s intentions” would be, “Kind of, but kind of slightly disagree, but only in certain contexts, like?”

Understanding wordplay and sarcasm

“Oh, no, I understood the joke. It just wasn’t that funny.”

This one is frequently attributed to our standard literalness, making us unable to understand words used in nontraditional circumstances. But for me, my literalness — and yeah, I definitely, definitely have it — contributes to my talent with wordplay. Add it to my considerable vocabulary (seriously, it’s impressive, I was a big reader when I was a kid, and I think there might be enough about that to warrant its own post) and I’m able to flip through the different definitions and connotations of all my words, and how they can be used, to see the humor in wordplay. I get jokes. I love puns — the cheesier the better. Words are both tools and playthings, and I’m going to squeeze those bitches for everything I can get out of them. And this is another thing that’s served me well in advertising — I have lots of words at my fingertips to use in lots of different ways to communicate in lots of different voices with lots of different audiences.

(I’m not quite so great at understanding sarcasm, because that also involves understanding people’s intent, and as noted above, that takes work for me. I can deploy sarcasm myself, though, with great relish and to pretty good effect, and I do pick up on it, and appreciate it, from others a good amount of the time. Again, it’s not despite an autistic trait, or for lack of an autistic trait — it’s because of one.)

So my response to “I am often the last to understand the point of a joke” would be, “Oh, no, definitely disagree.”

Being obsessively into numbers

I’m not a math person. I can do math, and even enjoy doing math, but I’m not an Autistic Math Person. (If anything, if I absolutely have to be a specific Person, I’d say I’m more of an Autistic Music Person.) I notice license plates, but usually I’m automatically trying to figure out if they’re a vanity plate with some clever (or not-as-clever-as-they-thought) message, not being fascinated with the numbers. I remember tons of random, useless facts, but pretty much never phone numbers. And I couldn’t care less about calendar dates. My brain thinks every prime-number date falls on a Thursday. I’m not an Autistic Calendar Person either.

(Today, in fact, is Thursday, October 19. Except it’s Tuesday. Yeah, for sure, calendars.)

So my response to “I am fascinated by dates” would be, “Definitely disagree, and excuse me, all autistic people aren’t Rain Man, Autism Quiz.”

Me: 39/50. These quizzes: Like, 37/50, probably.

So that’s me. And here’s my suspicion: These quizzes are mostly made by neurotypical people. People who don’t know what it’s likely to be intensely literal and sometimes need lots of clarification. Because an autistic person would know to be. More. Specific.

I’m not saying they’re bad or anything, or that anyone who takes one on the road to self-dx (or formal dx, however you want to do it) is getting bad advice or anything. Quiz away. I mean, I did it. I’ve done them several times even since my formal diagnosis, just for shits and grins. I’m just really amused by the fact that, in general, their main failing is that the crafters of these quizzes are theoretically autism experts, and their target audience is autistic people, and they still leave themselves open to, “But what do you mean by ‘difficult’?”

(On my intake form before I first talked to my specialist, I answered one of the questions, “I don’t understand the question.” And my specialist says she looked at it and thought, “Yeah, I think I know how this one is going to turn out.” And obviously she was right.)

So if you’re taking some of these quizzes on your path to self-dx, or formal dx, or whatever, have no fear: They’re not awful. They could just be more specific, is all. I mean, for real, “I know how to multitask”? Sure, I know how to multitask. I’ve read about it. I’ve tried to do it. I’m just not good at it. Oh, that was your question? Then you should have said I’m good at multitasking.

I’m autistic over here. Be more specific.

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