Simon Baron Cohen’s systematising quotient (SQ)

Following on from completing the AQ, I have decided to take the SQ. I have taken the SQ before, and got quite a low score for an autistic, which means that I am apparently not a genius at systematising (but you’re autistic, I hear the follower of BC say, you should be excellent at understanding systems; well there goes the stereotype!). This is not to say that I can’t systematise, just that I am not good at or interested in the areas that the STEM (Science, Technology , Economics and Maths) obsessed Simon celebrates as being a sine qua non of the prototypical autistic ”genius”.

Here goes:

1) I find it very easy to use train timetables, even if this involves several connections.

Slightly agree.

I am very familiar with trains because my parents never owned a car, and I grew up using trains and learnt how to independently travel on them (at least for short distances) without much trouble on the technical front. The train timetables online are very easy to use because you just type in your destination and the time you are leaving, and then you are clearly shown all the potential connections, changes and the station stops.

2) I like music or book shops because they are clearly organised.

Slightly agree.

I enjoy visiting book shops such as Waterstones, and the tidy, neat array of books, all in their designated subject areas, is calming. I am not very good at keeping things tidy at home, but I like well ordered spaces that have a clear layout. I like the fact that in a book shop all the philosophy books are in their own corner so that I don’t have to spend ages searching for them.

3) I would not enjoy organising events e.g. fundraising evenings, fetes, conferences

Strongly agree.

Just thinking about all the factors going into the planning is enough to send my head into a tailspin!. I would not know where to begin or how to prioritise the planning without  a great deal of assistance from others.

I am not sure why this is in the SQ. Many autistic people struggle with planning and organising as part of our cognitive differences, and so I would imagine that I am not the only one who would find organising a conference to be exceptionally stressful.

4) When I read something, I always notice whether it is grammatically correct

Slightly agree. 

I am generally aware of sloppy grammar, but I am not a grammar pedant, and the grammatical error would have to be very significant for my attention to be drawn to it. I sway between sightly agree and slightly disagree on this one.

5)  I find myself categorising people into types (in my own mind).

Strongly agree. 

I am very interested in psychology and philosophy, and I have always enjoyed categorising people, based on either appearance or perceived character.

6) I find it difficult to read and understand maps

Slightly agree. 

I am not sure what type of map this question refers to. I am not good at reading conventional maps because of my spatial awareness and visual perception difficulties, but I am good at following google maps because it is three dimensional, concrete and simulates reality.

Simon Baron Cohen is clearly not taking into account that many autistic people have visual spatial dyscalculia or dyspraxic traits, which by definition make it hard to read maps.

7)  When I look at a mountain, I think about how precisely it was formed.

Slightly disagree. 

However, I am interested in how natural systems work and how they are formed, but am not particularly interested in geology, and this is not the first question that pops into my mind when I peruse a mountain.

I waver between slightly disagree and slightly agree on this question.

8)  I am not interested in the details of exchange rates, interest rates, stocks and shares.

Strongly  agree.

Numbers and their systems are incomprehensible to me, and I find such subjects incredibly dull and uninteresting.

This is a very stereotypical question, as BC is assuming that autism is very closely aligned with an aptitude for grasping this sort of data, but we’re all individuals. I would much prefer to be reading a philosophy book or finding out about a famous person’s life.

9)  If I were buying a car, I would want to obtain specific information about its engine capacity.

Slightly disagree.

I am not at all interested in cars, and I will probably never own one. In the hypothetical situation of me purchasing a car, I would imagine that I would find it very stressful and would need a lot of advice because I am not at all interested in technical information.

10)  I find it difficult to learn how to programme video recorders

Slightly agree 

Learning practical skills does not come naturally  to me, although I will readily learn the skill once I have had enough instruction, support, repetition and practice.

11)   When I like something I like to collect a lot of different examples of that type of object, so I can see how they differ from each other.

Strongly agree

I am constantly collecting and comparing different recipes and clothing. I take photos of all the different foods I try in order to put them into categories, and this gives me a lot of satisfaction because I enjoy creating structures and order.

12)   When I learn a language, I become intrigued by its grammatical rules.

Slightly disagree

I am much more interested in the words of the language, and how the words sound or what they mean than the grammar, which I find rather boring and dull.

13)  I like to know how committees are structured in terms of who the different committee members represent or what their functions are.

Slightly disagree.

I am much more interested in what the Committee is discussing and the outcomes agreed than the minutiae of Committee roles.

14) If I had a collection (e.g. CDs, coins, stamps), it would be highly organised

Slightly agree

Although I struggle with general organisation and keeping things tidy, in very specific areas that are associated with my specific interests (clothing and recipes, for example), I have a clear system, albeit one that is idiosyncratic to me. I only wear certain clothes on particular days or months, and all my recipes and notes are now ordered in their respective books (although I needed initial support to get this system underway, as prior to this  all my recipes were chaotically scattered).

15)  I find it difficult to understand instruction manuals for putting appliances together.

Strongly agree

I need a lot of support following instruction manuals because of my visual perception and spatial  difficulties, although I am getting better at following them with practice.

16) When I look at a building, I am curious about the precise way it was constructed

Slightly disagree.

I admire aesthetically pleasing architecture, but my thoughts rarely consider the details of how the building was created.  I might be interested, though, in finding out about the cultural and artistic history behind certain buildings.

17)  I am not interested in understanding how wireless communication works (e.g. mobile phones).

Slightly agree. 

Technology is not one of my interests.

18)  When travelling by train, I often wonder exactly how the rail networks are coordinated.

Strongly disagree.

This is one of the most stereotypical , male biased questions asked so far, as autistic people are often assumed to be train spotting anoraks. It needs repeating: we are all different (and there will be many men who have never been interested in trains, despite the way society coerces young boys into liking trains and their accoutrements.)

19)  I enjoy looking through catalogues of products to see the details of each product and how it compares to others.

Slightly agree 

When younger, in particular, I enjoyed comparing kid’s toys and accessories during my strong interest in young children. I read Argos catalogues in great detail. These days, I enjoy comparing food brands in supermarket magazines.

20 )   Whenever I run out of something at home, I always add it to a shopping list.

Strongly agree.

I nearly always have a list with me when I go shopping, and rarely buy spontaneously.

21)  I know, with reasonable accuracy, how much money has come in and gone out of my bank account this month

Strongly disagree 

I never check my bank balance. My dad looks after my money because I have dyscalculia.

22)  When I was young I did not enjoy collecting sets of things e.g. stickers, football cards etc.

Slightly disagree

Why does BC not include dolls or stereotypically ”feminine” gendered objects in his examples?. I’ve certainly never been interested in football.

If this includes collecting DVDs associated with a favored movie star (in my case Kate Winslet), then I would agree. However,  I’ve never been into collecting things like stamps or stickers, so I’m not sure, and sometimes respond with slightly agree.

23) I am interested in my family tree and in understanding how everyone is related to each other in the family

Slightly agree.

But surely most people are at least slightly interested in their roots?. This is not one of my major interests, though.

24)   When I learn about historical events, I do not focus on exact dates.

Slightly disagree.

When I was very interested in the Titanic disaster and Kate Winslet, dates were vitally important. I am less interested in exact dates these days, so sometimes answer with slightly agree.

25)  I find it easy to grasp exactly how odds work in betting.

Strongly disagree. 

I have dyscalculia so this would be excruciatingly difficult. I am also not remotely interested in betting.

26)  I do not enjoy games that involve a high degree of strategy (e.g. chess, Risk, Games Workshop).

Strongly agree.

My dyscalculia means I struggle with understanding spatial relationships and problem solving that involves picturing scenarios.

27)   When I learn about a new category I like to go into detail to understand the small differences between different members of that category.

Slightly agree.

When I’m very interested in a topic, I have to absorb every single detail, and I get anxious if I feel I might have missed a detail or not fully understood a small fact.

28) I do not find it distressing if people who live with me upset my routines

Strongly disagree 

I can’t live without my routines and I live in constant fear that they will be broken by other people.

29)  When I look at an animal, I like to know the precise species it belongs to.

Slightly disagree.

But then animals are not one of my current ”special” interests, although that could change.

30) I can remember large amounts of information about a topic that interests me e.g. flags of the world, airline logos

Strongly agree.

My parents were astounded by how much I knew about the actress Kate Winslet and child development. I currently know volumes about nutrition, various philosophies and complex ideas.

31)  At home, I do not carefully file all important documents e.g. guarantees, insurance policies

Slightly agree.

I often just leave them unfiled because the task of organising them does not capture my interest and is too tiring.

BC again fails to appreciate that many autistics struggle with organisation skills.

32)   I am fascinated by how machines work.

Slightly disagree.

But is BC just referring to man made machines such as computers? Or does he also include systems such as the human body? . I was very interested in the human body as a child so I’m not sure whether my answer should be slightly agree.

33)  When I look at a piece of furniture, I do not notice the details of how it was constructed.

Strongly agree

Again, because furniture is not one of my special interests. BC seems to conveniently forget that autistics are usually hyper focused on one or two specialist topics. I might not be interested in how furniture is constructed, but I know a lot about the mechanics of human nutrition.

34)  I know very little about the different stages of the legislation process in my country.

Strongly agree.

But this is currently not one of my ”special” interests!

35)  I do not tend to watch science documentaries on television or read articles about science and nature.

Strongly disagree.

I am quite interested in science, and I enjoy reading popular science articles and finding out facts about plants and nutrition.

36)  If someone stops to ask me the way, I’d be able to give directions to any part of my home town.

Slightly disagree.

I can struggle to explain how to get from A to B unless I am really familiar with the route.

37)  When I look at a painting, I do not usually think about the technique involved in making it.

Slightly agree.

I am slightly interested in technique if I were to read about it in a book, but usually when I’m studying a work of art in a gallery, I am more interested in just taking in the colours and images.

38) I prefer social interactions that are structured around a clear activity, e.g. a hobby

Strongly agree.

I mainly socialise at the autism groups I attend, and I prefer structured one to one chats that have a clear start and finish time and purpose.

39)  I do not always check off receipts etc. against my bank statement

Strongly agree.

I have dyscalulia or ”number blindness”.

40)  I am not interested in how the government is organised into different ministries and departments.

Slightly agree.

I am much more interested in specific polices and their philosophical ramifications than the minutiae of bureaucracy.

41)  I am interested in knowing the path a river takes from its source to the sea.

Slightly disagree.

42)   I have a large collection e.g. of books, CDs, videos etc.

Strongly agree.

And clothes and recipes, Simon!

43)  If there was a problem with the electrical wiring in my home, I’d be able to fix it myself

Strongly disagree.

I would need someone else to do it for me and would be very worried about being able to trust them and whether or not they would do a good job. I know nothing about electrical wiring!

44) My clothes are not carefully organised into different types in my wardrobe

Slightly disagree.

This  was not the case in the past, but currently clothes are one of my major preoccupations so I have them  organised according to whether or not they are rough indoor clothes, rough outdoor clothes and new and clean ”social/work” clothes.

45)  I rarely read articles or webpages about new technology

Strongly agree.

I am not at all interested in gadgets.

46)  I can easily visualise how the motorways in my region link up.

Strongly disagree.

I have no interest in roads or cars. Give me a green park any day!

47) When an election is being held, I am not interested in the results for each constituency

Slightly agree.

In this case the bigger picture is certainly more captivating.

48)  I do not particularly enjoy learning about facts and figures in history.

Strongly disagree

I have always enjoyed learning about historical facts, but also historical trends and how the facts link up into wider stories or pictures.

49) I do not tend to remember people’s birthdays (in terms of which day and month this falls)

Slightly disagree.

But I’m not amazingly good at remembering exact birth dates unless I am very close to the person. I knew the dates for Kate Winslet’s family, though, because Winslet was one of my major preoccupations for over a decade. I veer between slightly disagree and slightly agree.

50)  When I am walking in the country, I am curious about how the various kinds of trees differ.

Slightly disagree.

I am interested in the natural world, though, and am currently learning about a few of my favourite flowers. But when walking in the country, I  am not thinking too deeply about how trees differ. Instead I am just trying to soak in the landscape.  If Cohen had put flowers, I might have answered with slightly agree, but this was not the case in the past as my interests have changed.

51)  I find it difficult to understand information the bank sends me on different investment and saving systems.

Strongly agree.

52)  If I were buying a camera, I would not look carefully into the quality of the lens.

Slightly agree.

I would need support from the shop assistant to help me understand what camera would be best suited to my needs.

53) If I were buying a computer, I would want to know exact details about its hard drive capacity and processor speed

Slightly disagree.

Again, I would need support to help me understand all the technical information.

54)  I do not read legal documents very carefully.

Slightly agree.

I think they are boring and overwhelming as the information can be hard for me to understand.

55)  When I get to the checkout at a supermarket I pack different categories of goods into separate bags.

Slightly disagree.

56)  I do not follow any particular system when I’m cleaning at home.

Slightly agree

Cleaning is not something that is easy for me as it takes a lot of energy and the time could be better spent on  my interests. I’m rather haphazard with my cleaning.

57) I do not enjoy in-depth political discussions

Slightly disagree.

But I obviously prefer it if the person shares my political ideals, and I would not be happy if they were arguing for benefit cuts or other austerity measures. I might be so overwhelmed that I would leave the room!

58) I am not very meticulous when I carry out D.I.Y or home improvements

Slightly agree.

But I’d need a lot of support because I can’t do D.I.Y anyway due to my spatial and visual perception difficulties.

59)  I would not enjoy planning a business from scratch to completion.

Strongly agree.

As mentioned, planning and organising can be very difficult and stressful for many autistics, including myself, and I would need a lot of support if I ever decided to start a business.

60)  If I were buying a stereo, I would want to know about its precise technical features.

Slightly disagree. 

I would want a good stereo at a reasonable price, but would need a lot of support to make a good decision.

61) I tend to keep things that other people might throw away, in case they might be useful for something in the future

Strongly agree.

I am getting a lot better at this since my support worker helped me with organisation, but I keep a lot of clutter as I’m not sure if I will ever need it, and I get attached to belongings.

62) I avoid situations which I can not control

Strongly agree.

I am a ”control freak” par excellence!

63) I do not care to know the names of the plants I see

Slightly disagree.

I have recently become quite interested in plant names.

64) When I hear the weather forecast, I am not very interested in the meteorological patterns

Slightly agree. 

I check the weather every day as I like to know what to expect, but I am not that interested in the fine details of atmospheric pressure, etc.

65)  It does not bother me if things in the house are not in their proper place.

Slightly disagree.

I like to know where things are located, and I try and ensure that items are grouped together, although I can struggle to keep on top of organisation, which means the house gets more messy than I feel comfortable with.

66) In maths, I am intrigued by the rules and patterns governing numbers

Strongly disagree.

67)  I find it difficult to learn my way around a new city.

Slightly agree.

In the past I would have put strongly agree, but google virtual maps has made the planning involved so much easier, and so sometimes I am inclined to put slightly disagree.

68) I could list my favourite 10 books, recalling titles and authors’ names from memory.

Slightly agree. 

But it might take me a bit of time to drag the information out of my memory, particularly if I’m tired or stressed.

69)  When I read the newspaper, I am drawn to tables of information, such as football league scores or stock market indices.

Slightly disagree.

70) When I’m in a plane, I do not think about the aerodynamics

Strongly agree.

I have not been in a plan since I was a toddler, but if I were to ever travel in one, aerodynamics would be the last thing on my mind!

71)  I do not keep careful records of my household bills.

Strongly agree.

72) When I have a lot of shopping to do, I like to plan which shops I am going to visit and in what order

Strongly agree.

And I tend to shop at very specific times.

73) When I cook, I do not think about exactly how different methods and ingredients contribute to the final product

Strongly disagree. 

I enjoy analysing recipes  because food and cooking is my major area of interest.

74)  When I listen to a piece of music, I always notice the way it’s structured.

Slightly disagree.

75) I could generate a list of my favourite 10 songs from memory, including the title and the artist’s name who performed each song.

Slightly disagree. 

I prefer reading books to listening to music.

Grand score: 41 out of 80.

What the scores mean:  40-50 – You have an above average ability for analysing and exploring a system.

51-80:  You have a very high ability for analysing and exploring a system. More people with autism than in the general population are supposed to score in this range according to SBC’s theory, when compared with non autistic men, and almost no non autistic women score this high.

Therefore,  my systematising ability is similar to a non autistic man, if the theory is to be believed (which is highly debatable). The questionnaire is very male biased in the first place, and works against autistic people with dyscalculia. If I did not have dyscalculia and was male, my score would probably be a lot higher. Also, SBC sees systematising as almost synonymous with the STEM subjects, but arguably philosophy and more creative subjects also involve systematising (subjects  where women are more heavily represented, such as the arts and humanities). However, very few questions target these domains.

According to SBC the SQ predicts your AQ score, so the higher your SQ the higher your AQ. Yet my AQ is higher than my SQ would suggest, and considering many autistics struggle with co-existing conditions such as dyscalculia, I  am skeptical that the SQ has universal  validity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Simon Baron Cohen’s AQ

I thought it would be interesting for me to fill out Simon Baron Cohen’s well known autism screening  questionnaire on my blog. I have taken this questionnaire many times previously, and usually get a score at the lower end of the autistic range (80% of  clinically diagnosed autistics, according to Cohen, score between 32 and the maximum of 50 points), despite experiencing my autism quite severely. I  think that the questionnaire is biased towards the male phenotype, and I’m not sure to what extent the AQ is a valid or reliable indicator of whether or not someone is autistic. People without autism might get a high score for other reasons, such as introversion, and the AQ result might change over time ; my  own score fluctuates from around 32-38 points.

 1) I prefer to do things with others rather than on my own.

Slightly disagree.

I  prefer being on my own most of the time, but I do enjoy the company of trusted support workers  when I go on some outings, and  when I deliver talks I like having the input of others because this reduces stress levels. This question is tricky to answer because my response depends on the context. It is certainly easier to work with others in an organisation when delivering talks (such as Aspie Trainers) than it would be to try and do all the work on my own. 

2) I prefer to do things the same way over and over again

Slightly agree.

This questions depends on what ”thing” I’m thinking about. Certainly I like to go to bed at the same time every night, I need to follow my reading routine most days, and I  do certain activities, such as shopping , within the same time frame. My life is very predictable. I eat breakfast at more or less the same time each day, and the same usually applies to lunch and dinner. The only reason I did not put ”definitely agree’ is because I enjoy experimenting with my diet, and eating the same food all the time would not stimulate my culinary curiosity. But maybe I’m being overly pedantic in answering this question, as otherwise I would ”definitely agree”.

3) If I try to imagine something, I find it very easy to create a picture in my mind

Slightly disagree.

What is this question asking me to imagine?.  I’m guessing it refers to imagining possible scenarios involving future events or imagining how someone is feeling. I can imagine or conjure up in my mind concrete facts such as what someone looks like (as long as I know them well), but I struggle to picture future outcomes, particularly if they involve social scenarios. This question has me rather stumped as it’s not clearly formulated . It also makes me think of a meditation exercise, where you’re asked to imagine that you’re by a lake surrounded by trees. I can imagine this sort of scenario quite well, however I struggle to immerse myself in the picture because I’m so easily distracted.

4) I frequently get so strongly absorbed in one thing that I lose sight of other things

Strongly agree.

No doubt about this one!. My reading is extremely important to me, and when I’m deeply immersed in a book, it’s hard for me to summon the energy to do tasks such as cleaning the kitchen or bathroom, or taking the initiative in other areas. My life is on hold until I finish the book, and quite often when the book is finished I am not sure what to do next or how to plan my life. My life revolves around reading and cooking, the two intense areas of focus that guide my life. Also I sometimes get extremely obsessed with  something, for example, if someone has said something that I disagree with. My life is literally put on hold until I have rectified what has gone ”wrong” in my mind.

5)  I often notice small sounds when others do not

Strongly agree.

Slight noises that don’t affect others, such as a light being switched on or the soft sound of a creaking floorboard, disturb my sleep in a way that others often don’t understand.

6) I usually notice car number plates or similar strings of information 

Definitely disagree.

I am not remotely interested in cars!. This is one of Cohen’s highly gendered questions, revealing his male bias (although I am sure there are women out there who are interested in cars, and  vice versa with regard to men). What does similar strings of information mean? If it’s referring to numerical patterns then my answer would be definitely disagree.

7) Other people frequently tell me that what I’ve said is impolite, even though I think it is polite

Slightly disagree.

Really not sure about this one.  My parents, particularly in the past, chastised me for my tone of voice or manner of requesting things. However, like many people with autism, particularly women, I have learned to mask my  autism when out in public, and therefore the only person who might come out with such a statement these days is my dad.

8) When I’m reading a story, I can easily imagine what the characters might look like

Slightly agree.

Not sure how to answer this one. Does it mean being able to picture visual details, such as picturing the colour of a character’s hair if you have read that it is blond?. I can picture these details, although my representation is usually quite vague and ill defined with regard to fictional characters. I swing between slightly agree and slightly disagree on this question as I’m not too sure what a ”good” imagination would look like.

9) I am fascinated by dates 

Slightly disagree.

This is another stereotypical, male biased question. One of the autism stereotypes is of a Sheldon Cooper type male who is obsessed with nerdy type information such as dates and facts,  often relating to maths, science, or TV trivia .

I am slightly interested in historical dates, such as the fact that the fire of London occurred in 1666 (remembered thanks to my synaesthesia – the 6’s are all green), but I’m not great these days at remembering people’s birthdays, and when reading I’m more interested in the meat of the narrative than the dry dates themselves. It was a different story when I was obsessed with Kate Winslet, though. Back then I knew every single film release date, and the date of birth of all her family members.

10)  In a social group, I can easily keep track of several different people’s conversations

Definitely disagree.

I try incredibly hard to focus on a conversation, but eventually I shut down and zone out because there is too much information.

11)  I find social situations easy 

Definitely disagree.

Social situations are extremely hard work.

12) I tend to notice details that others do not 

Slightly agree.

This one is quite hard to answer. I do get sucked into the details when I’m reading, and I can’t do things casually. My approach to life is all or nothing, particularly where my interests are concerned. That said, unlike some autistics, I’m not a grammar pedant, and it’s not the case that I will notice literally every single detail. Also, I’m not sure what others see (that problem understanding other’s minds) , so until I’ve asked another person or really grasped how they see the world, this question is open to interpretation.

13)  I would rather to go to a Library than a party

Definitely agree.

Parties are loud, overwhelming, boring and pointless affairs. I’d much rather satiate my curiosity with a good book; this one is a no brainer, to pardon the pun!

14)  I find making up stories easy 

Slightly disagree.

Another male biased question. Many people with autism, particularly those with the female phenotype, enjoy retreating into fantasy worlds and are very good at creating elaborate stories. This statement plays into the myth that autistics lack imagination.

I used to tell my mum stories when younger, the ones that began with the classic ”once upon a time”. I’m not sure how easy I find this as an adult, because I have no interest in writing stories these days. I wouldn’t say making up stories has ever come easily to me, though, hence the reason for slightly disagree.

15) I find myself drawn more strongly to people than to things

Slightly disagree.

This question is hard to answer, and I suspect it’s another male biased statement. All my interests are people focused, yet I prefer reading about people than actually being with them, although I do enjoy spending short periods of time with people I like, when the interaction is brief and structured.

16) I tend to have very strong interests that I get upset about if I can’t pursue

Definitely agree.

This is one of the most obvious and pervasive traits of my autism, although my interests are not geeky and stereotypical.

17) I enjoy social chit-chat

Slightly disagree

I almost put definitely disagree, but I’m not entirely sure what social situation this is referring to.  I hate unsolicited social contact, such as when a stranger tries to strike up conversation on the bus, but in short doses with people I like, I tolerate and can find some satisfaction in social interaction., even though it’s very hard work.

18)  When I talk, it isn’t always easy for others to get a word in edgeways

Slightly disagree.

With my dad I would put definitely agree, but I have learnt how to mask this trait when in public, hence why I answer with slightly disagree. But who knows, I would have to ask them, because people are often too polite to say what they really think.

19)  I am fascinated by numbers

Definitely disagree.

I have dyscalculia and numbers are just empty symbols that carry no information.  This statement is also very male biased and stereotyped.

20) When I’m reading a story I find it difficult to work out the character’s intentions

Slightly agree.

I used to really struggle with this as a child, and this was partly why my comprehension lagged behind both my  mechanical reading and my chronological age.

These days my comprehension for written text has improved, and it is much easier to work  out a character’s intentions in a book than in real life, because the latter does not allow enough processing time. When reading fiction, though, I do rely heavily on book reviews and Spark Notes to help me work out the hidden nuances of the text.

21)  I don’t particularly enjoy reading fiction

Slightly disagree.

Generally I prefer non fiction books (these days philosophical and psychological works), but I do quite enjoy reading fiction if it is related to my interests.

This statement is very stereotypical, and there are many autistics (particularly women, but also many men) who enjoy fiction, sometimes to the point of a particular work (such as the Harry Potter series) being a special interest.

Briefly, as a child, I was very interested in the Malory Towers series of books by Enid Blyton.

22)  I find it hard to make new friends 

Definitely agree.

The whole concept of friendship has always been very difficult for me to understand.

23)  I notice patterns in things all the time 

Slightly disagree.

I’m tempted to put definitely disagree on this one, but I’m not too sure precisely what patterns this question is alluding to.

24) I would rather go to a theatre than a museum 

Definitely disagree.

Yet some people with autism are obsessed with the theatre. Baron Cohen being stereotypical again.

25) It does not upset me if my daily routine is disturbed

Definitely disagree.

Without routine my life feels like chaos.

26)  I frequently find that I don’t know how to keep a conversation going

Slightly agree.

When younger this would have been definitely agree, but my conversation skills have significantly improved with age, although the art of keeping a conversation going is incredibly hard work beneath the surface mask.

27)  I find it ”easy to read between the lines” when someone is talking to me

Definitely disagree.

Subtext and hidden meaning in real world conversations completely eludes me.

28) I usually concentrate more on the whole picture, rather than the small details

Slightly disagree.

I am better at whole picture thinking than I used to be, but it does not come naturally to me.

29)  I am not very good at remembering phone numbers

Slightly disagree.

If it’s a number that I use often, I can consign the number to memory.

30) I don ‘t usually notice small changes in a situation, or a person’s appearance 

Slightly disagree. 

I can be visually ”blind” because my visual sense is quite weak. In the past, for example, my mum might have had her hair cut and I would not notice.

However, it does  sometimes bother me if furniture has been moved around without my permission, and I will want to put things back to how they were previously.

31) I know how to tell if someone listening to me is getting bored 

Slightly disagree.

I sometimes get a hint that someone might be uncomfortable but I am not sure what to do with the information, and will likely carry on with my behaviour anyway unless they explicitly tell me I am boring them.

32) I find it easy to do more than one thing at once

Slightly disagree.

For most activities this would be definitely disagree, but because cooking is my special interest, I am a lot better at multi tasking in the kitchen. I think this is because of constant practice and repetition. However, this does not translate to being able to multi-task in a work environment because I  work slowly and to my own timetable, and cannot deal with social interaction demands when I need to focus on cooking.

33) When I talk on the phone I’m not sure when it’s my turn to speak

Slightly agree.

The pauses can be fairly obvious in a a phone call, but I find it very hard to keep on top of the conversation because working out the cues is not natural for me.

34)  I enjoy doing things spontaneously

Definitely disagree.

Everything in my life has to be planned. If my dad asks me to come out for a walk or to speak to someone on the phone, without  prior warning, I will get very annoyed and frustrated.

35) I am often the last to understand the point of a joke

Definitely agree.

I then feel very stupid and it can make me feel  excluded and like an outsider.

36) I find it easy to work out what someone might be thinking or feeling just by looking at their face

Definitely disagree. 

I can work out obvious facial expressions, and it is easier for me to work out what my dad’s face is conveying (his stressed face is very obvious!), but I can’t work out the faces of acquaintances or casual friends.

37) If there is an interruption, I can switch back to what  I was doing very quickly.

Slightly agree.

I get very stressed if I am interrupted, but if the interruption is to my routine, the greater imperative would be for me to complete the routine so I would want to get back to what I was doing as quickly as possible.

38) I am good at social chit-chat

Slightly disagree.

However, other people might think I am good at social chit chat because they only see the mask. I found this statement hard to answer, and sometimes I answer with slightly agree, as I’m not sure whether my socially competent mask enters the equation. This statement is problematic because of the masking and camouflaging phenomenon.

39) People often tell me that I keep on going on and on about the same thing

Slightly disagree.

Or should that be slightly agree?  At home, when I’m not masking, I do have a tendency not to stop talking about one of my passions. But in public, I’m careful not to keep talking. That mask I put on yet again!

40) When I was young, I used to enjoy playing games of pretending with other children

Slightly agree.

I have fond memories of playing dungeons with two older girls who were assigned  by teachers to look after me and play with me at the beginning of primary school ( I had not made friends among my peer group).

When I did finally make a peer group friend at the end of  my time at primary school, we played teachers and ”mum and dad”.

However, I struggled to relate to my peer group and often  had no one to play with.

This statement is male biased and stereotyped, for it is now well known that autistic girls are more likely to enjoy games involving make belief.

41) I like to collect information about categories of things e.g. types of car, types of bird, types of train, types of plant, etc)

Definitely agree.

However, why does Cohen not include other categories, such as philosophers, shades of colour, different cuisines, or areas that are more female biased, or, better still, gender neutral?

42)  I find it difficult to imagine what it would be like to be someone else

Definitely agree.

Other peoples’ thoughts and feeling are a mystery to me.

43)  I like to plan any activities I participate in carefully

Definitely agree.

The planning and organising can be very stressful as every detail has to be accounted for, from train times to places to eat to what to wear.

44)  I enjoy social occasions

Slightly disagree.

But it depends on the occasion (is it structured or a party?), who is present, and whether or not it involves my interests.

45)  I find it difficult to work out peoples’ intentions

Definitely agree.

46) New situations make me anxious

Definitely agree.

Although my level of anxiety will vary depending upon how many new variables are involved, as if there is a level of familiarity to the new situation (meeting a new person but in a familiar cafe), I will not be so anxious.

47)  I enjoy meeting new people.

Slightly disagree.

Although my curiosity can sometimes get the better of me and bring down my level of anxiety.

48) I am a good diplomat.

Slightly disagree, but not entirely sure.

49) I am  not very good at remembering people’s dates of birth

Slightly agree. 

What this has got to do with autism evades my understanding, and I think Cohen is playing at stereotypes again.

50)  I find it very easy to play games with children that involve pretending

Slightly disagree.

But not too sure as these days I am never around young children.

Grand total: 38.

Baron Cohen’s studies have shown that adults with a clinical diagnosis of autism tend to score above 32 out of 50, so my score fits into that range. However, as the statements are open to interpretation and subject to male bias, as well as not taking into account masking, the score should be treated carefully. This is particularly the case as Cohen’s team has already identified that males and scientists  in the general population tend to score higher than females, so it stands to reason that autistic women and those not proficient in science might score lower on this test than autistic men with the ”male” presentation. The converse is also true: autistic men with the ”female” presentation will also get an artificially lower score.  The test is not itself diagnostic, but it concerns me that as a screening instrument it may unfairly discriminate against the ”female” phenotype (that can also be expressed in some men).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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My favourite colour is…Mexican pink!

If you asked me what my favourite colour is, for years I would have said purple. Now, I do love the myriad shades of purple, particularly the hues closest to Amaranth, but I also harbor a soft spot for pink. I find it difficult to admit this in a world that associates pink with little girls, meek ”femininity” and all things soft and gentle (not that there’s anything wrong with these attributes). But if you want to be taken seriously as an adult woman, you are often told to shun pink and stick to  serious black or grey. I think that’s such a shame because we’re denying ourselves a huge spectrum of beautiful colour, and the arbitrary association of colour with particular cultural signifiers restricts our aesthetic experiences. Ironically, pink was actually a masculine signifier (as a muted form of the ”manly” red), and pale blue was the ”feminine” colour until the mid 20th century.

Recently I have discovered Mexican pink, which is a vibrant purplish pink that is used in the traditional clothing of Mexico, particularly in the brightly coloured shawls and craft art. This hot pink colour actually symbolises Mexican identity (I am envious!). The colour was named in 1949, when the Mexican fashion designer, Ramon Valdiosera, utilised the colour in his designs.

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Late summer cuisine

As summer steadily draws to its close, I have been busy making the most of the seasonal plenitude. I was very pleased with the dish showcased below, which I discovered in my little BBC Good Food book of pasta. The name of the dish is pasta Primavera ( Italian for spring). In essence, however, a pasta primavera is any pasta dish that emphasises vegetables. Evocative of spring and the vibrant green of summer (when there is no drought that is!), the dish also includes myriad herbs  (my one contained basil, parsley, and mint). All the vegetables come together to celebrate, a veritable cornucopia of the season’s best produce, a symphony of flavour and colour.

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The next chapter in my seasonal cooking adventure will focus on blackberries, corn on the cob, plums and apples. Blackberries are already making an entrance, and so I decided to make a blackberry and apple crumble.004

In contrast, the cherry season is drawing to a close, so I gave them a joyous Sunday breakfast sendoff with this Clafoutis, which is a French fruit custard desert, involving eggs, milk, and a small amount of flour. 002

Autism for me

Autism is often talked about in very impersonal, objective terms, in arcane and confusing language that is overly medical and academic.

But to better grasp autism you have to ask the person with autism what it’s like for them. Autism is not an abstract entity but a lived experience, and no two lived experiences are alike; the following is only my version of what autism ”is for me” day to day.

Autism is:

Constant alertness, bombardment, too much information, too much noise, too many demands and not enough bandwidth to process it all, resulting in a never ending anxiety.

Autism is:

Fingers in ears when sleeping, headphones and predictable white noise (to block out unsolicited  noise) when reading, total, exhausting focus with the prospect of being distracted by noise at any random instant a constant menace.

Autism is:

This book needs to be read this morning, will it be noisy and will this interfere with the plan?

Autism is:

A shooting jolt in the stomach as footsteps are heard, thump thump, above, then silence…but when will the next noise come, and, oh no, I need to whisper this sentence out emphatically again in order to wrench the meaning out of the silent text.

Autism is:

Following passions assiduously and independently on my own terms, doing my own thing, living my own life, regular patterns and order to be found in food, cooking, and reading, curiosity and a never ending  need to accrue new information about the world.

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Autism is:

Distraction, lack of focus caused by noise competing for attention, irritability and anger when routines are interrupted and disorder and chaos replace beauty and peace; needing to know what is happening in detail, needing to go to bed at the same time every night, and fear that tiredness will render me completely incompetent, thereby affecting my intellect and ability to learn and function.

Autism is:

Fixation on the plan, wariness of straying outside my comfort zone and existing patterns of living, yet a paradoxical willingness to collect new experiences (food, books) that are the subject of an intense collecting obsession.

Autism is:

Obsession and total pursuit of an idea, thing or image, over and over and over again.

Autism is:

Procrastination, zoning out, aimless slumping in a chair not knowing what to do and where to go or how to live.

Autism is:

Excitement in the face of perfection, tasty food, a good book completed or a challenge overcome.

Autism is:

Feeling like a child in an adult’s body, running and jumping with abandon, overcome with energy that is so intense it’s  bordering on uncomfortable.

Autism is:

Pacing on toes round the kitchen, flapping arms and hands, unconscious random giggles when alone and undisturbed.

Autism is:

Mess, disorganised papers that are screaming out to be put away, but the energy has already been spent following interests or important routines.

Autism is:

Social confusion, disconnection and isolation; difficulty visualizing verbal explanations and taking in information at the pace people expect;  socializing (from reciprocal conversation to listening) is unnatural and arduous, yet important to avoid the feeling of not existing and having no value.

Autism is:

Difficulty empathising or delayed empathising. Not understanding the thoughts and feelings of others, at least not emotionally, and feeling bad about this because I want to care but the feelings don’t come on cue, and sometimes never come at all; feeling out of my depth when people cry and difficulty dealing with emotions, my own and that of others; avoiding peoples’ emotions as much as possible; repressing or ignoring feelings as not relevant; sudden bursts of angry energy that disappear as fast as they come; intellectualising everything.

Autism is:

Copying others, learning how to socialize via intense effort and conscious application, appearing to socialize well yet no one sees the furious paddling beneath the mask.

Autism is:

Often invisible to the casual beholder (well, if they don’t live with me, that is!) but all too visible to me, 24 hours of the day; appearing to be no different to anyone else, yet experiencing the world in a very different way.

Autism is:

Trying to fit in by conforming to the social rules, but stumbling around like someone trying to fit a key into a lock in the dark.

Autism is:

Attempting to socialise while feeling tense and as though I am on a precarious ledge that could give way at any moment, exposing my vulnerabilities.

Autism is:

Those eyes are boring into my soul, I can’t think, the glacial balls are too distracting, need to look down to focus on the words and formulate my response, but they might think I am being rude and I don’t want  to be judged so  I try and look at them anyway.

Autism  is:

Feeling vulnerable in a world that does not understand you and that constantly misinterprets your actions; a fear of being disbelieved, trivialised, overlooked and excluded.

Autism is:

Not mild but a total existence that affects every element of my life, for good and bad.

Autism is:

Tiredness, disrupted sleep, aches and pains.

Autism is:

What the heck are emotions? one moment and then complete involuntary explosions the next, followed by self-recriminations and endless rumination.

Autism is:

Slow processing, an intelligence that is not always accessible, meanings lost, facts forgotten, and consequent feelings of stupidity and failure.

Autism is:

Endless words stored in colour, such as aleatory, atrabilious (can’t believe I remembered that one, and spelled it right too, after only seeing it written this morning); a ordered inner universe of coloured months, days, numbers and years, a need to categorise, collect, try out, improve, experience, and control as many aspects of the world as possible, and to never stop trying to succeed.

 

 

 

31 years old, a reflection

 

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I turned 31 years today (Friday the 27th July, 2018). Yet inside I don’t feel as though I have changed significantly from when I was the 8 year old girl above, celebrating my birthday at the Stratford Upon Avon caravan site I visited every summer holiday.  I suspect that because I am autistic, I have followed my own developmental path that separates me from my age peers. I’ve never been in a relationship, never had a proper job, and I spend a lot of time alone because I struggle with socialising and do not have the strong social drive that occupies non autistic people. Inside I can be playful, strong willed, egocentric, and I’m often unable to see someone else’s point of view, resulting in what some might label  as childish behaviour.

That said, I continue to make small gains each year in terms of my confidence and ability to challenge my fears and OCD.  Last year I have achieved the following:

  • Developed a new friendship with another autistic woman
  • Ate at several new cafes in my area, including having chips at a local pub with my new friend
  • Began cooking fish, first with support and then on my own (I had huge OCD contamination fears around handling and eating fresh fish)
  • Began cooking all meals at my new flat, increasing my independence
  • Went on several trips to Brighton, including to the Brighton Pavilion  and the natural history museum on a supported outing; with a friend; and traveled there once on my own
  • Can confidently travel to Horsham on my own
  • Went on a supported outing to Guildford- first time I had looked round the town
  • Attended a new autism social group, run by Autism Hampshire. I used Google maps to find the venue, and traveled there all on my own! (I only went to a couple of meetings, and stopped attending because it was too noisy and unstructured, but was a good challenge)
  • Presented an Aspie Trainer talk on women and autism three times, at different venues
  • Presented an Aspie Trainer talk on autism and sensory issues for the first time
  • I was interviewed about autism for a local radio station
  • Took part in a colour perception research study at Sussex University
  • Began my you tube video channel at the end of 2017
  • Went to Portsmouth on my own several times, including my  first visit to the Natural History museum
  • Created an organisational system for my files with my support worker’s help, which has brought a bit more order to my life and has helped me develop my cooking skills
  • Developed my interest in food by becoming very interested in seasonality or what foods are currently growing in the UK
  • Had a cognitive assessment, which showed that I have a very high verbal IQ, but have severe non verbal challenges
  • Began going on regular outings, on my own, to Arundel
  • Ate twice ( teacake and then scone) at new cafe in Arundel

A few changes have also taken place this year. At the end of 2017, I stopped volunteering at AGE UK (which I had been doing for just over 5 years) because I was struggling to mask my autism and needed more space for myself. This decision, while not easy, has definitely improved my stress levels.

My support worker of 10 years announced that she was leaving a month ago, and I said goodbye to her earlier this week (although we will keep in touch).  I feel sad that she is leaving and uncertain about the future, but am trying to focus on the positives in my life and to keep challenging my anxiety.

Finally, on Thursday,  I baked a cardamom, banana, cranberry, and green tea loaf cake for my birthday (with thanks to my support worker who gave me the recipe from a Waitrose card).

 

 

 

My day in food

I thought I would write down what I had to eat on one random day. My daily eating habits are quite varied because I enjoy experimenting with different recipes.

                                                                                                                                     Breakfast

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”Black forest” overnight oats  with cherries, chocolate, grated pear, cocoa powder and yogurt  (BBC Good Food recipe)

                                                                                                                                    Lunch 

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Sourdough toast topped with peanut butter, and a strawberry, raspberry, banana and honey salad (a weight watchers recipe – no I’m not trying to get thinner than I already am, but I seek inspiration wherever I can find it!)

                                                                                                                                      Dinner

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Roasted ratatouille (courgette, aubergine, tomato and garlic) with penne pasta and cheese (BBC Good Food recipe).

                                                                                                                 A rather special dinner

On another day  I  made these courgette, mint, lemon and chickpea egg fritters in my frying pan,  served with cherry tomatoes, feta cheese and mint, a recipe which I discovered in the Waitrose food magazine. I was very pleased with how they turned out.

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