The Broad Autism Phenotype Questionnaire

This week for Take-a-Test Tuesday, I took the Broad Autism Phenotype Questionnaire.The only online version I was able to locate is seriously flawed so I’m going to recommend against taking it. However, I’ve been looking for an excuse to talk about the Broad Autism Phenotype and here it is! If you’re the parent of an autistic child, I have a question for you about the BAP at the end.

The Broad Autism Phenotype (BAP) is a fancy way of saying that nonautistic relatives of autistic individuals often have subclinical autistic traits themselves. As far back as Leo Kanner’s original study on autism, researchers have been observing a tendency for parents of autistic children to exhibit traits that are milder but qualitatively similar to the defining characteristics of autism, especially in the area of social communication.

Consequently, the Broad Autism Phenotype Questionnaire (BAPQ) focuses primarily on social communication, rigid personality traits and pragmatic language deficits, which are thought to be the most common characteristics of BAP. It is designed to be taken by nonautistic individuals, specifically parents of autistic children.

The BAPQ has questions in three areas:

  • social communication deficits (aloof personality subscale)
  • stereotyped-repetitive behaviors (rigid personality subscale)
  • social language deficits (pragmatic language subscale)

Each of these areas corresponds to one of the core domains of autism (though that will change with the DSM-V): social, stereotyped-repetitive, and communication deficits. The researchers who developed the BAPQ defined the three subscales that the test measures as follows:

Aloof personality: a lack of interest in or enjoyment of social interaction
Rigid personality: little interest in change or difficulty adjusting to change
Pragmatic language problems: deficits in the social aspects of language, resulting in
difficulties communicating effectively or in holding a fluid, reciprocal conversation

In developing the BAPQ, traits like anxious/worrying,hypersensitive to criticism, and untactful (which can all be autistic traits) were omitted because the researchers believed they were observed less frequently as part of the BAP. An individual is considered to “have” BAP if they exceed the threshold score on two of the three subscales.

It’s interesting to note that parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles of autistic children also have higher than average rates of major depression and social phobia. A number of studies (like this one) have indicated no direct relationship between BAP and major depression or social phobia in autism families. There have also been a number of studies that have refuted the notion that raising an autistic child is the cause of these elevated rates (take a look at the discussion section of the linked to study if you’re curious about how they reached this conclusion and what other factors might be at work).

Taking the Test

The only place I could find to take this online is at OKCupid. The test is riddled with grammatical errors and the result summaries are downright insulting. The scoring also appears flawed, so unless you have literally nothing better to do, I don’t recommend taking it. Seriously, go see what’s new on Tumblr or something.

My primary purpose in analyzing the online test is to point out how flawed it is and how it doesn’t align with the intended scoring method of the original BAPQ. You might want to go through the test to see what questions are included but you can also find the questions on page 10-11 of this PDF.

Scoring the Test

It’s unclear how the online test is scored. The original BAPQ has 6 answer choices, scored on a scale  from 1-6, but the online test collapses the first and last two choices. The BAPQ cutoff scores are averages (2.75 – 3.5), which were developed as part of a study using the 1 to 6 scale. The OK Cupid test appears to be using a summed score rather than an averaged score to determine a cutoff, so maybe the person who posted this decided to make up their own cutoff?

Like I said, you’d be better off wasting fifteen minutes on Tumblr.

At any rate, it provides four scores: diagnosis (overall score), aloof (aloof personality traits), rigid (rigid personality traits) and pragmatic (pragmatic language problems). The fact that the scores are presented as percentages (in excess of 100, no less!) makes no sense. Even worse is the little “diagnostic” description provided.

Mine says: “You scored 123 aloof, 117 rigid and 100 pragmatic. You scored above the cutoff on all three scales. Clearly, you are either autistic or on the broader autistic phenotype. You probably are not very social, and when you do interact with others, you come off as strange or rude without meaning to. You probably also like things to be familiar and predictable and don’t like changes, especially unexpected ones.”

Yep, that's me, 123% aloof and 117% rigid.
Yep, that’s me, 123% aloof and 117% rigid.

I looked at all of the possible outcome descriptions (you can force the test to reveal them at the end even if they don’t pertain to your score) and they’re all just as meaningless. Some are downright wrong. Many of them state that you’re on the BAP if you are over the cutoff on one subscale but not the other two, which is incorrect.

Basically, the “results” of the online test are useless.

If you’re interested in taking the BAP and getting a valid score, you can look at the appendix of the original research paper which has the full set of questions with a scoring key.

The Bottom Line

The online version of the test is too flawed to provide meaningful results. The BAPQ as administered in a clinical setting is used to screen for BAP in parents of autistic children, but the goal of screening is unclear.

My question for any parents of autistic children who might want to answer: do you see aspects of yourself in the BAP questions? Do you think the BAP has any significance for you personally?

27 thoughts on “The Broad Autism Phenotype Questionnaire”

  1. I’m not sure if it biases your question that I have been diagnosed autistic already or not, but yes, I do see myself in these questions. I fell definitively on the “You are autistic.” side of the questions. I can certainly see my children in the questions. I also am debating on applying these questions to my daughter to see how much of this I see her in. I’ve been debating having her tested for a while now.

    1. I think if you are diagnosed autistic, you’ll automatically fall on the BAP as well. Are you familiar with the child version of the AQ? That might be a better indicator of your daughter’s potential status because it’s meant to be completed by a parent.

  2. The answer to your question is an emphatic, Yes! The apple doesn’t fall far from the autistic tree. Oh good grief, it only takes one look at our family, seriously. Me, my husband, my mother, her father, we all have traits. The roots of autism are long and deep in our family. I am positive my grandfather, the “eccentric engineer” (need I say more?) had Aspergers, but he was born in 1897 and you didn’t have Aspergers then, you were just eccentric. I think there is a continuum and everyone is on it, all of humanity makes a bell curve, and we could all be measured in standard deviations.

    1. I wonder if it was more fun to be eccentric? There’s something about removing the pathology of an atypical brain that I find so appealing and yet I suspect that to be different in any era still means that you’re different.

      I agree that we’re all on a continuum somewhere. Though if you look at my “diagnosis” graph from this test, some of us are apparently falling off the edge of it! 😀

      1. My grandfather was one of the happiest people I knew and couldn’t be bothered about what he was called. He was busy with his work and used his energies and talents to invent and enrich his community. Names. labels and such stuff were for other people, not him. And see, I look at the those tiny edges of the bell curve as fascinating. That’s the place of innovation and lesson learning. My son occupies both ends of the bell curve. IQ wise he is 3+ deviations above the norm and social skills and daily living skills he is 3+ below the norm. He spans more than 100 points but the lessons, the way his brain works, it is fascinating (at time frustrating) but absolutely fascinating. There was a time, along time ago, I think if I could have I would have traded IQ points to get him more “normal” and oh how I am so happy such a thing was not possible. Who Ted is and what he will be is tucked away in those bell curve ends and I wouldn’t change that for anything.

        1. I think one of my (so far nonexistent) goals for 2013 should be owning my eccentricity more. I’m frustratingly self-conscious, even as I go through life marching blithely along to a drummer that only I hear. The other day my daughter looked at my husband and me being our oddball selves and said, “I can’t believe the two of you have the most ‘normal’ marriage of any of my friends’ parents.” We all had a good laugh at the irony.

          Of course, when you put it in terms of potentially trading IQ points for normality, I wouldn’t give up a single one and I’m glad you feel the same about Ted. 🙂

      2. In previous eras many “just eccentric” people were stuck in asylums, I’d also be willing to bet that many people who were burnt as witches were outcasts and such so I don’t think it would’ve been any better.

  3. I found this interesting as the mother of a (possibly) Aspergers daughter. When I was younger – probably up until my late 30s, I was extremely sociable and good at social interaction. I loved spontaneous outings and events and was able to adapt easily to most occasions and gatherings of people. I hated routine and wouldn’t have been able to do a routine job. Now, apart from routine, which I still can’t be doing with, I find I’m not that interested in meeting new people, I like my own company more and more, can’t be bothered to ‘entertain’ much, am happy with my existing network of friends and not too bothered about making any new ones. I’ve even found myself being tactless on occasion lately. I have jokingly said to my husband that I think I might have ‘late onset Asperger’s Syndrome’ – or is it just that I’m getting older and crankier?

    1. I’ve found that as I’ve aged I’ve become less and less interested in making the effort to socialize. Perhaps age is a factor in our willingness to expend energy on certain things? As for tactless . . . all I can think of here is Maggie Smith’s tart portrayal of Cousin Violet on Downton Abbey. The things she gets away with saying thanks to her age!

  4. A couple of my Autistic friends recommended that I take that test and so I did. I actually took it twice and was told “Clearly, you are either autistic or on the broader autistic phenotype.” While I agree that the test is really flawed and I laughed out loud when you advised people to go do something else rather than take it, I did find it really interesting and helpful to look at how my own neurology is perhaps closer to my child’s than I had once considered. Having been so programmed to view my child as “other” it is wonderful to feel that connection and see that this (like almost everything I was originally told about autism) was untrue. In my exploration of my own neurology I have come to understand her much more and as a consequence, also help her in a gentler, calmer and kinder way. (Or so I hope!)

    1. I love your view of the BAP as the starting point for a sense making narrative, Ariane. I hadn’t thought of that possibility and it’s an exciting one.

      I don’t have any problems with the BAPQ itself, just with the online version. I found myself wanting to throw things at it as I wrote this up. I also struggled with what the purpose of finding out that you’re on the BAP might be for parents. You already know your child is autistic so it’s not predictive. BAP isn’t a diagnosis. It puzzled me.

      Happily, your answer transcends science and provides a different way of looking at the question entirely. 🙂

      1. I’d think the purpose is more for researchers to help find a genetic component, but it might be healthful for parents who might be in a little denial or upset by the stigma of diagnosis to recognize it in themselves.

        1. I’ve known at least one parent who was all about finding the “cause” of their kid’s autism, while I’m going, “dude, look in a mirror!” It’s sad and frustrating, really.

  5. Okay, I took the test from the appendix. I think I got it scored correctly. I did all of the questions, reversed the scores for the specified questions, got an average of all of my scores for the overall and the averages for the three subsets. What I had trouble finding in the research paper was what the scores meant at that point. Maybe it is just that my scores are enough higher than the averages, and only the averages were graphed, so it seems that my score doesn’t fall on the graph, and is therefore not scored correctly.
    I had : overall – 4.31, aloof – 4.25, pragmatic language – 4.5, rigid – 4.31. I did see some “cutoff” scores in the 3’s, but somewhere else it referred to a cutoff score for pragmatic language of 5.
    Obviously, I have many of these traits. I would likely qualify for the Asperger’s diagnosis under the DSM-IV. I am not sure I will qualify under DSM-5 because it doesn’t rise enough to the level of disability. I have a child who is diagnosed with autism and my husband has an informal diganosis of Aspgerger’s. We are a quirky family and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

    I would be interested to see a similar test for siblings. I have a son with ADHD. He is very social, but he has many of the sensory issues and other quirks. I do not think he is on the spectrum, but he is definitely not NT.

    1. First let me say, I admire your dedication to getting a valid score. I thought about making an Excel file that would automatically score the BAPQ, but it seemed like a huge amount of work because of the question reversal thing.

      The subscale cutoffs (from Table 1) are aloof 3.25, rigid 3.5 and pragmatic language 2.75. The total score cutoff is 3.15 but I’m not sure if that’s meaningful. It looks like you’re above the cutoff on all three subscales.

      One thing that’s interesting about the DSM-V is that it takes into account whether a trait “exists now or ever existed” so I think one could qualify based on past history as well as on adult presentation. When I had my assessment done, the psychologist asked as many questions about my childhood as he did about my present day experiences. But you’re right about the requirement that the traits/symptoms being an impairment to daily living. If you don’t feel that’s the case, I think it would make it harder to get officially diagnosed. Not that it makes a difference.

      Happily embracing your quirkiness sounds far more important!

      1. I was thinking about some of this today. I have spent a fair amount of time over the past few months getting to know some of the autistic self-advocates online. Doing so has made me look at my son, my husband, and myself in a different way.
        If anything, my journey over the past year and a half of intensive therapies and time with my son has made me more autistic rather than making him more NT. I am finally learning that it is okay to be myself. I don’t have to pretend to be something that I am not.
        I told my son that today and he thought it was funny. He was shocked when I told him that all of the adults in my life as a child spent their time trying to make me into something else. I didn’t have anyone who just accepted me, quirks and all. I am so glad that I am able to do that now for my son.

        As for the diagnosis, I might try to find someone who is good at figuring out alphabet soup. I am actually on disability due to bipolar and anxiety. I have also been diagnosed with fibromyalgia, SAD, OCD, multiple chemical sensitivity syndrome, ADHD, and a few others I seem to have forgotten. The strange thing is that my son and I have almost identical lists of symptoms, just in different orders. Yet, his diagnoses are autism, ADHD, and a mood disorder. It makes me wonder how much of mine stems from the ASD issues.

        1. I’m slowly learning that same lesson. It takes a lot of undoing of other lessons learned, but yes, I’m becoming more openly autistic too. Your son is lucky to be growing up with the kind of acceptance you describe.

          There seems to be a lot of overlap between many of the conditions you describe and ASD. I’ve read about people receiving several other diagnoses before getting an ASD diagnosis, which they felt “caught” everything or much of everything in one basket. I think there are real challenges with getting an accurate diagnosis as an adult because we have so much history in addition to our collection of symptoms.

  6. Interesting. I might see if I can get my mother to take the “real” test, based on Ariane’s comment. We’re pretty sure my dad’s at least a borderline Aspie, and my mom seems to have a few problems understanding us. This might be a route to help!

    😉 tagAught

  7. The test is definitely flawed. I had a spare few minutes, so took it out of curiosity only for it to say I’m neurotypical. The issue is that I’m a diagnosed Autie, so about as far from being an NT as you can get.

  8. Hi, I’m a psychology undergraduate looking to use the BAPQ in my final year project, however I’m having a lot of trouble locating a copy of the BAPQ, along with scoring key, and was wondering if anyone knew of where I could access it? and also the authors email address would be very helpful.
    Thanks, Josh

    1. Are you able to access the original research paper on the BAPQ? I see that the link I included here has gone dead but I’m sure you could find it in a university database. That should have contact info for the authors and I know it includes the scoring key.

  9. I know I’m really late to this article here, but I figured I might as well share where the BAPQ is anyways. Here’s the citation info, and I was able to locate it through Web of Science through my college.
    Hurley RS, Losh M, Parlier M, et al. (2007) The broad autism phenotype questionnaire. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders 37(9): 1679–1690.

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