Tag Archives: depression

Comorbid Conditions: Diagnosis and Misdiagnosis in Autistic Women

There’s a new article today at Autism Women’s Network: Autistic Women: Misdiagnosis and the Importance of Getting it Right

The rate of being diagnosed with a co-occuring condition if you’re autistic is very high. In fact, I’m curious if there’s anyone here whose sole diagnosis is autism or Asperger’s. I have a comorbid diagnosis of an anxiety disorder and probably have mild undiagnosed OCD. The really interesting thing is that so many of us don’t feel that all of our comorbid diagnoses are a good fit. I wrote about how my anxiety doesn’t feel disordered to me and so I don’t think the diagnosis fits.

I also think it’s interesting that we’re often given diagnoses for conditions that have many overlapping traits with autism. For example, dyspraxia and sensory processing disorder share nearly all of their traits in common with autism. How do clinicians decide that one autistic person should also get a dyspraxia or SPD diagnosis while another person with a very similar profile doesn’t? I would love to hear your thoughts on this or anything related to the article in the comments here.

Also, I owe a huge thank you to the people who filled out the survey about comorbid conditions and patiently worked with me on sharing their stories for this article.  My next article for AWN will be about motherhood and the challenges that being on the spectrum can present as well as how it might affect our choices regarding childbearing. Okay, so that’s likely more than one article.

If you’d like to share your thoughts and experiences, I’ve created a short 5-question survey at  Questions about Autistic Motherhood. It’s open to both women with children and women who do not have children. As long as you identify as being on the spectrum and would use the term mother to refer to yourself if you had a child, then you’re welcome to take the survey. I’m especially interested in the question about what supports autistic moms would benefit from–if there are enough responses, that will be its own article, because I think its a subject that doesn’t get nearly enough attention.

Adult ASD Evaluation: The Tests

This is Part 9 in the I Think I Might Be Autistic series. In Part 8 I covered the diagnostic interview portion of my autism evaluation and in this part I’m covering the cognitive tests, ADHD test and psychological screening questionnaires.

Cognitive Testing

Cognitive testing for ASD is a mix of verbal and nonverbal tests.

Some I found easy; others were a challenge. One actually made me bang my head on the desk, though I stopped as soon as I realized I was doing it because . . . inappropriate. Most were designed to start out easy and scale up in difficulty so that the last few were very challenging.

If you’re planning to be evaluated, you may or may not want to read about the tests I took in detail. Consider this your spoiler warning.

Here is a list of the tests I took with a short description of each:

WAIS-IV (full): An adult IQ test that measures verbal comprehension, perceptual reasoning, working memory and processing speed.

  • The verbal portion covered things like describing the similarities between two words (i.e. anchor and fence, statue and poem, allow and restrict), defining vocabulary words and answering general information questions. I found the “similarities” test challenging because some of the pairs had conceptual rather than concrete similarities. The other two sections were fairly easy because I’m both a walking dictionary and an encyclopedia of random facts.
  • The perceptual reasoning portion was a series of visual puzzles: using colored blocks to reproduce a design, deducing which design comes next in a series, and choosing shapes to form a larger shape. These tests were fun, although I found myself guessing at times.
  • The working memory tests involved repeating back strings of digits in forward and reverse order and doing math problems verbally. By the end of the digit string tests I was rocking back and forth in my chair with my eyes closed tight. The math problems, on the other hand, were fun. All of these tests made me conscious of how much I talk out loud to myself when my brain is working hard.
  • The processing speed portion involved locating symbols and coding a series of numbers into symbols. These were both fairly straight-forward pattern recognition tests that required balancing speed and accuracy.

Woodcock-Johnson III (partial): A test of academic skills that included orally identifying written words, orally spelling words given by oral prompt, and doing some math problems on paper, ranging from pre-algebra to basic calculus. I got tripped up by “questionnaire” on the spelling test. It’s one of those words that I always use autocorrect on. There is no autocorrect on an oral spelling test.

Wechsler Memory Scale IV (partial): The portion of this I took tested auditory memory. It involved two parts:

  • listening to a brief factual story and retelling it, including as many facts as possible, then responding with true/false answers to factual questions about the story (two trials)
  • listening to a long list of word pairs and then responding to a word prompt with the correct paired word (interminable number of trials)

I struggled mightily with both of these. My working memory is poor, especially when working verbally under pressure.

Rey-Osterrieth Complex Figure test: A measure of organization and planning skills as well as fine motor skills. It involves reproducing a complex drawing using a series of colored pencils that allow the evaluator to track the order in which the figure was drawn as well as the accuracy of reproduction.

Thirty minutes later, without any warning, I was asked to reproduce the same figure from memory. This did not go well. If you looked at the sample figure I linked to above, what I managed to reproduce the second time was basically a box with an X through it, a flag sticking out the front and bowling ball floating in the upper right corner. Bizarrely, I still remember exactly what it looked like and could draw that from memory months later.

Word Fluency: A timed test in which I had to think of as many words as possible that fit the following categories: animals, words starting with A, words starting with F, and words starting with S. These were challenging–I started out with a good head of steam but once I lost my momentum, I started perseverating on the words I’d already named instead of thinking of new words. Until I realized that I could name things from around the room that fit the prompt. Aspie adaptation for the win.

California Verbal Learning Test: Another test involving recalling items from a list with multiple trials. Again, I struggled with this one. The correct strategy, which I realized on the fourth trial, was to chunk the words by category to make recalling them easier. There were only five or six trials, so my realization came kind of late. This test also had me closing my eyes and talking to myself out loud because I was so frustrated with how difficult it was. There might have been some cursing. I was getting tired.

Trailmaking test: A connect the dots type of test–first connecting numbers only and then connecting an alternating sequence of numbers and letters. This measures visual scanning and sequencing ability. Surprisingly, I was quicker at the second series, even though it was the more difficult task.

Stroop Color and Word test: A series of three visual to verbal tests:

  • verbally reading off a list of color words (blue, red, green) printed in black ink
  • verbally giving the color of a series of Xs there were printed in blue, red or green ink
  • verbally reading a list of color words, with each printed in a different color ink (i.e. RED printed in blue ink)

This test was deceptively easy. So much so, that when I saw my results, I was shocked. I scored in the “impaired” range on the first two and in the “high average” range on the third (and hardest) test.

Performing better on the more challenging versions of the Stroop and trailmaking tests leads me to believe that I’m more motivated to perform accurately on challenging tasks and if a task is too simple, I get bored and easily distracted.

Other Neuropsychological Tests

Grooved Pegboard test: A timed test of fine motor skills that consists of putting metal pegs in a pegboard, first with the right hand and then with the left. The only problem I had with this one was accidentally switching back to the right-handed order of inserting the pegs (right-to-left) when I was doing the left-handed test (meant to be completed left-to-right).

Reciprocal Motor Programs test: A test of how well I could repeat and then reverse repeat a series of finger taps.


IVA Continuous Performance Test: This was the only cognitive test conducted by computer. The computer provided visual and auditory prompts at random intervals. If the prompt was a 1, I had to click the mouse. If the prompt was a 2, I had to refrain from clicking. The test was 21 minutes long. By the halfway point, I was stimming ferociously. I was also determined to ace this test (out of fear of being misdiagnosed with ADHD perhaps) so first I pretended that I was an air traffic controller and if I missed a cue, an airplane would crash. When that stopped working, I told myself that if I missed a cue, a puppy would die. Yeah, I take this stuff way too seriously. It took me awhile to wind down after this test was over because I sent myself into a state of extreme hyperfocus.


I also completed four self-report questionnaires:

MCMI-III: This consisted of 180 true-false questions that test for 14 personality disorders (e.g. schizoid, depressive, compulsive) and 10 clinical syndromes (e.g. anxiety, bipolar, PTSD). There were also some funny questions, like “I am currently in an airplane” meant to verify that I was paying attention. Or not delusional. Hard to say.

Beck Depression Inventory (BDI-II): A 21-question self-report instrument for measuring the severity of depression.

Beck Anxiety Inventory (BAI): A 21-question self-report instrument for measuring the severity of anxiety.

Current and Childhood ADHD self-report: A self-report instrument for measuring the presence of ADHD symptoms now and during childhood.


Next up: Waiting for the Results