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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