Tag Archives: social interaction

Taking the Liebowitz Social Anxiety Scale Test

The Liebowitz Social Anxiety Scale Test is a measure of the degree of social phobia that a person experiences. Autistic individuals often have a social anxiety disorder diagnosis so I thought it would be interesting to see how we score on this test.

Before taking the test, I think it’s important to differentiate between autistic social anxiety and social phobia. Social phobia, the set of experiences on which a social anxiety disorder is based, is a strong fear of being judged by others and of being embarrassed. Generally the fear has to interfere with a person’s ability to work, attend school or generally function on a daily basis for it to rise to the level of a phobia.

A key feature of social anxiety disorder is that the anxiety experienced is irrational. For example, a person might become very anxious about going to work because they’re afraid that their boss will reprimand them in front of others even though they’re generally good at their job and their boss usually gives criticism to employees in private. In addition to the emotions associated with anxiety (fear, nervousness, dread), the person experiences strong physical sensations, like nausea, racing heart rate, sweating, and/or shortness of breath, in anticipation of the feared situation.

For a long time, I thought that I experienced social anxiety. Until I started reading about the experiences of others and discovered that my issues with social interaction are atypical for nonautistic people, but also atypical for those with social phobia.

Here’s how my social, um, issues manifest:

  • Realize that a social event is coming up in a few days.
  • Develop a background sense of dread.
  • Become increasingly irritable, withdrawn, restless and avoidant.
  • Resolve to go anyhow.
  • Get ready for the event way too early then sit around in my fancy clothes waiting for the precisely calculated minute at which I need to leave the house so as not to arrive too early or too late.
  • Forget five minutes after I arrive how much I dreaded the event or even why.
  • Stumble through the event with my usual atypical mix of being socially awkward, overly informative and very interested in anything on the periphery of the event.
  • Leave at the earliest opportunity.

I guess what I have is more social dread than social phobia. Which makes me curious how I’ll score on this test.

(This is not to say that no autistic people experience social phobia or that I don’t have specific fears around certain social situations, just that I don’t experience the more broadly defined social anxiety like I’d always assumed.)

Taking the Test

An online version of the Liebowitz Social Anxiety Scale Test is available here.

There are 24 situations presented, which are rated in two categories: fear and avoidance. You’re asked to rate each situation based on your experiences in the past week and to imagine how you’d react to the situation if it is one that you don’t usually experience.

For fear, the choices are: none, mild, moderate and severe. For avoidance, they are: never, occasionally, often and usually. If you don’t choose an option, it will default to none or never, so be sure you’ve made a choice for each to get an accurate score.

The test will take 3 – 10 minutes to complete, depending on how much you need to think about each answer.

Scoring the Test

You’ll receive a two part score, with one score for fear and one for avoidance, as well as an overall rating of your level of social anxiety.

My score was: 23(fear) + 17(avoidance) = 40

You do not suffer from social anxiety.

(For reference, a total score of 55 is the cutoff for social phobia.)

I found the two factor set-up of the test really helpful because it allowed me to say that I avoid something but not out of fear or that I fear something but generally do it anyhow. For example, I rated “fear of speaking in front of others” as severe but only avoid it occasionally. Returning an item is something that I don’t like doing, but I’ve never avoided taking something back for refund because the incentive of getting my money back for an item that I don’t need is pretty high. Public speaking is something that I’ll do when I have to, but it makes me incredibly nervous. On the other hand, “giving a party” got both “severe” on fear and “often” on avoidance.

Things like “resisting a high pressure” salesperson fall into “often” on avoidance but “mild” on fear. It’s one of those situations that I avoid because I just find them annoying (being observed when working) or a waste of time (small group activities, ack!), not because I fear them.

Thinking about each activity in terms of “how much do I dislike/fear this thing?” and “how does that feeling impact my daily functioning?” was helpful in identifying areas that I should probably work on (high fear/high avoidance items).

One potential problem for those of us on the spectrum, however, is that our social fears may not be irrational. For example, we might fear making phone calls to strangers because of difficulties with language pragmatics that make it hard to conduct phone conversations successfully. So even if our fears don’t fit the irrational aspect of social phobia, we could end up with a high social anxiety score. I think that in a clinical setting, if a therapist is using this scale with an autistic person as a screening instrument, items with high fear/avoidance scores should be interrogated more thoroughly for the underlying reasons to avoid misdiagnosis.

The Bottom Line

The situations presented cover a broad range of social situations in a way that makes it possible to separately identify feelings of anxiety and how much those feelings affect your actions, making it a practical way to identify general levels of social anxiety and specific anxiety-inducing situations.


What I learned While Running, Swimming and Biking 293 Miles in 8 Weeks

When I decided to sign up for a triathlon back in June, my baseline goal was simply to finish. The distances all looked doable and I figured that as long as I didn’t get hurt, finishing the race was just a matter of pacing myself well.

What I hadn’t counted on was 2-3 foot waves during the swim. On triathlon day, there was a storm blowing in, which created swim conditions that were worse than my imagined worst case scenario. Worse than anything I had practiced in. Worse even than I thought the race organizers would allow us to swim in.

As a “first timer” I was in the last group of swimmers to start. That meant I got to stand on the beach and watch as dozens of swimmers–all experienced triathloners–signaled the lifeguards to be pulled out of the water and paddled into the shallows on one of the rescue surfboards.

Suddenly just finishing didn’t look like such a sure thing. As they say, “man plans and God laughs.”

I'm the scared looking one in the blue shirt.
I’m the scared looking one in the blue shirt.

Continue reading What I learned While Running, Swimming and Biking 293 Miles in 8 Weeks

Social Interaction Survey

This week’s questions are all about general social interaction (next week is social communication). Some of these questions might hit a little close to home for some of us  because they touch on trust and vulnerability. Please don’t feel pressured to answer any questions that make you uncomfortable.

If you prefer to answer anonymously, you can do so at Survey Monkey.

1. Have you dated knowing you had Aspergers/Autism? If so, when and how did you disclose? How did that turn out?  How did you go about getting someone to date you?

2. How often do you like to go out? Do you prefer to do stuff alone? Do you find it difficult to motivate yourself to go out sometimes?

3. Do you talk a lot to people? A lot of books go on about how Aspies can talk the hind leg off a donkey about their pet topics  but I don’t have the desire to really talk to people.

4. For people diagnosed as an adult, do you have a changed perception of how others see you? for example how friendly/outgoing/confident you seem to them.

5. Do you see yourself as vulnerable because of ASD? Are you more likely to be persuaded to do something or taken advantage of than most other people might? Has your perception of this changed with age?

6. Trusting other people – over the years I have learnt that I am very poor at reading peoples intentions and have been taken advantage of. I have adjusted to this by needing to understand what is happening and needing to be able to logically join up what someone does and says into a consistent picture – or I don’t trust them. How do other people manage this?

7. Do you ever feel like you’re living on a different scale of time from other people? For example, do you hear about a new TV show and only watch it years later because it just didn’t seem urgent?

8. My therapist explained that extroverts gain energy from others and introverts gain energy from being alone, and that autistic people can be either or anywhere in between. She also said there are challenges for extrovert autistics because of the social difficulties making it hard to achieve needed social interaction. (more details) Thinking about it in these terms, where would you place yourself on a continuum from introvert to extrovert? Is this different from how you would think of yourself using the terms in a broader sense, and is this different from how others see you?


Taking the Personality and Emotion Test

Those of you who didn’t like the flashing photos in the last two tests will be relieved to know that this week’s test is a series of multiple choice questions. The Personality and Emotion test at Test My Brain looks at three areas:

  • how frequently you experience negative emotions like fear, worry, anger, frustration, and self-consciousness

  • how sensory seeking you are

  • how much you enjoy social interaction

Their working hypothesis is that people who score higher on the second two will score lower on the first. In other words, if you enjoy sensory and/or social aspects of life, you are less likely to experience high levels of negative emotions. I like the inclusion of sensory elements in this test. I’m not “social seeking” but I’m highly sensory seeking. In fact, much of what I find enjoyable about life falls under the heading of sensory input. It’s nice to see that acknowledged as valid, alongside the more traditionally valued social interaction.

I want to talk some more about the individual sections when I share my scores, so let’s take the test first.


The test takes 10 to 15 minutes. To start, go to testmybrain.org and click on the Go! button next to the “Personality and Emotion” test.

You’ll be asked to make your browser window large. I kept mine the size I normally use and it worked fine. The next screen is a simplified informed consent form. You’ll be told what the research is being used for and asked to consent (agree). The next screen collects some anonymous demographic information.  Continue reading Taking the Personality and Emotion Test

Socializing: Reboot

I had jury duty recently. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the US jury service system, US citizens are periodically required to fulfill our civic duty by reporting to a local courthouse and making ourselves available to sit on a jury panel for a criminal or civil trial. The processes vary quite a bit from place to place but often you show up for a day at the courthouse and get sent home without actually sitting on a jury.

Unless you’re really lucky. Like me. Then, somehow, you get put on a jury 2 out of the 3 times you’ve ever been called to serve.

Together with seven other people, I got assigned to a jury panel for a 3-day civil trial. The case was strange. The testimony was at times fascinating, at times mind-numbingly boring. None of that is especially what I want to talk about.

Like so much else in life these days, I approached jury duty as an experiment. A socializing experiment. I decided it was the perfect opportunity to reboot my approach to interacting with strangers. It was a relatively safe, time-limited interaction–if things went poorly, I knew that I would only have to spend three days with these people and then I’d never see them again.

In the past, I would have done my best to pass, hoping that my fellow jurors would like me and more importantly, not think I was too weird. This time around, I made a conscious decision not to worry about that.  Continue reading Socializing: Reboot

Rules to Live By

Back when I first started reading about ASD, I came across David Finch’s “Journal of Best Practices.” If you haven’t read it, all you need to know is that after being diagnosed with Asperger’s he started keeping a journal filled with social rules (best practices) that he wanted to remember.

What a great idea, I thought. I should do that!

Yeah. It turns out that I’m not anything like David Finch. He went about cataloging the rules he was learning with a humor and fanaticism that I just don’t have. I wrote down the rules I was learning for approximately . . . two weeks. Then I got distracted by some other bright shiny thing I can’t remember and abandoned the file.

As I was cleaning out my Google docs folder recently, I came across the rules I’d written down. And I have no idea what the point was, because unlike Finch, who actually set about following the rules he’d learned, all I did was write snarky explanations to justify breaking the rules.

That was a year ago, so I thought it might be fun to revisit them. For each, I’ve listed the rule, my response from a year ago and my current response.  Continue reading Rules to Live By

An Open Invitation to Infodump

It’s rare these days that the thread of comments on a post isn’t two or three or five times as long as the post itself. This makes me happy. Happy that so many of you feel comfortable sharing your thoughts here. Happy that each post becomes a jumping off point for discussions that wind in all sorts of interesting directions. Happy that we can learn from each other.

I enjoy reading your comments–and I do read every single one of them. I especially enjoy the longer ones where a subject catches someone’s interest and they go off on an enthusiastic tangent. This happens a lot.

You know what else happens a lot? Apologizing. No sooner does someone finish writing their long detailed informative comment than they’re apologizing for it. A recent exchange with Ischemgeek made me realize how often we apologize for simply talking. I do it in the comments too and this is my blog!

And I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve started to write a comment on someone else’s blog, then deleted it for fear that it was too long or irrelevant. I bail on comments more often than I finish them. The ones I do leave, I often end up wishing I’d said less or came across sounding more chatty and less. . . . fact-y.

No one likes a smarty-pants right? I learned that lesson early and well.


Does Infodumping Have a Place?

We’re autistic–we have deep knowledge of certain subjects, we’re passionate about our knowledge and we want to share. This should be a good thing, but so often it’s something that we’re made to feel bad about and have been since childhood.

In that exchange I mentioned above, Ischemgeek said:

I like hearing others monologue at me (love learning & reading stuff), but I’m used to having to apologize for it when I do it, yeah. When I was a kid, I’d be told I was being domineering or rude and then made to apologize… which didn’t have the effect of teaching me not to monologue because I’m usually 5-10 minutes in before I realize I’ve been talking a while, it just taught me to apologize when I realize I’ve monologued.

Monologuing or infodumping is part of our nature. I understand why it’s discouraged in children. Monopolizing the conversation is rude. So is talking about a subject the other person isn’t interested in.

If you’re told enough times that talking about what interests you is rude, it’s easy to start thinking that talking itself is rude. Because what would we talk about, if not what interests us? We’re black and white thinkers–we come to conclusions like this as a matter of course, especially when we’re younger.

But like Ischemgeek points out, that doesn’t necessarily teach us not to infodump. It teaches us to reflexively apologize every time we say more than three sentences.

Is that necessary as adults? What if the other person expresses interest in the subject? Like Ischemgeek, I will happily listen to someone infodump on a wide range of subjects. Not only that, I’ll often prolong their monologuing by asking lots of questions. I love learning new things and am fascinated by details. When someone has an expert level of knowledge on a subject, their enthusiasm for the subject is contagious. At least I think it is.

I’ve learned about fascinating subjects I never would have pursued on my own thanks to someone else’s passion for them. Ancient Egypt. Aboriginal camp dogs. Unknown unknowns. Primate social behavior. Poaching in Africa. The epidemiology of cancer in Hispanic populations in the US. Given enough time to think about it, I could fill a page at least with topics of memorable conversations like those.

The Scientist and I are both monologuers at times. We indulge each others’ topics of interest. I know far more than the average person about a whole bunch of subjects thanks to his passionate interest in them and the same is true of him. That’s not to say all or even most of our conversations are one-sided monologues. Simply that we both enjoy learning new things and not every conversation we have has to be a typical back and forth, each person talking for equal amounts of time type of conversation.

Making Our Own Rules

I think, because we’re adults and because we can, we should put a moratorium on apologizing for sharing information that we find interesting. Starting here, in the comments. The asynchronous nature of blog comments makes this a low risk place to infodump.  We can each choose to read or skip over comments as we see fit. No one has to read what you wrote (well, except probably me).

If you have something to say that you think is interesting and adds to the conversation, say it. Don’t apologize for being passionate about what interests you or for sharing it.

Shape Shifting

Recently The Scientist said, “I’m concerned that your world is shrinking.”

I asked him why. He elaborated. I didn’t say anything substantial in response because, as so often happens, I didn’t have a coherent answer at the time.

But that statement has been roaming my brain for the past few days, measuring my current state of affairs against times past.

Shrinking implies something that was once larger or more abundant. Two years ago I was finishing up my long-put-off university degree. I was spending three days a week on campus, surrounded by people, interacting all day, commuting an hour each way, expanding my intellectual horizons. The Scientist and I also had frequent social engagements because we lived in an area where we knew quite a few people.

Since then? I’m back to working at home. My days have a predictable rhythm: wake up, workout, write, work, eat a few times in between. Some days the car never leaves the garage. The geography of my social interaction is smaller than it was when I was going to school. Or years before that, when I was working at a job that required interacting face-to-face with people all day long or when my daughter was in school and I had to shuttle her to events and such.

There was a time in between all those other times–a time when you could say that my world shrunk very small–and I found the kind of internal quiet that I hadn’t known existed. The Scientist and I moved far away from our roots, to the desert, to a place so remote that we regularly encountered coyotes on our evening walks and the nearest gas station–the nearest anything–was a fifteen minute drive.

In that place, I found a deep internal sense of quiet. I let go of a lot of old hurts. I started to understand myself.

Of course, life gradually crept in again. We formed ties. We put down new roots. I decided to go back to school. Gradually I began to feel a creeping sense of unease. The quiet I’d found receded as I found myself having to back out of that peaceful place I’d created for myself. One by one, I backed out of the rooms in my mind, turned off the lights and closed the doors, shutting away the parts of myself that I instinctively sensed wouldn’t survive being exposed to the outside world.

Until something inside me rebelled and refused to close another door. The place I’d found–it was hard to leave and harder to close away without knowing if I’d be able to find my way back. In retrospect, that internal rebellion–the tension that arose between the security of the peaceful place I’d found and the stimulation of the outside world I was being drawn back into–was the first step toward discovering that I’m autistic.

I didn’t know that then. All I knew was that something had to give.

The tension grew in a way it hadn’t before. I became acutely aware of the two very different places I lived in. There was this new place, which existed mostly when I was alone, that felt very natural. It was secure and comfortable and, most of all, quiet. I hadn’t been in a place that internally quiet in a very long time, certainly not since I’d reached an age that had two digits in it instead of one.

Then there was the other place, the one I’d taken for granted as being life, the one where I kept a stranglehold on everything to keep it from flying apart. It was a place that pushed me to grow and expand myself, but one where I lacked the natural ease I felt in the new place I’d discovered.

I tried shifting between the two places but that turns out to be impossible for me. In typical aspie fashion, I have no idea where the middle ground is. I can be here or there, but commuting between them isn’t something I can do on a daily basis. When I do shift–like I did after my recent trip, moving from the intense interaction of being with people 24/7 for 10 days to the quiet of home–it can take me weeks to rediscover my equilibrium.

That got me thinking about where the source of that equilibrium lies. I think it lies in my true self, the one that is more fragile than I’d like to admit and that I can close off inside a nice safe cocoon when I need to, safe from harm but inaccessible.

It’s scary to realize that I can intentionally dissociate myself, scarier even to think that for years I’d been doing exactly that without consciously being aware of it. At some point–probably very early on–closing off parts of myself became my main defense mechanism, a way to survive in a world I find hard to navigate and harder to understand.

That can’t be healthy. I don’t enjoy it. I wish my quiet self was strong enough to go into the world without having to close all those doors. Perhaps the place I’m in now, this revival of my quiet period as I’m starting to think of it, is my way of nurturing and fortifying my quiet self for whatever comes next.

On my trip, I felt like I had to close off myself less than I did in the past. There are some doors I can leave ajar, some lights that I can dim instead of extinguishing. Thanks to understanding my autistic brain better, I have coping mechanisms available to me now that I didn’t before.

It may be a few years before life shifts again and takes me into a new phase as it inevitably does. For now, I’m planning to make the most of this quiet period, writing and thinking and being with myself. I think a certain amount of withdrawal from the world–a redirection of my resources–is necessary for me to expand myself internally.

Is my world shrinking?

Days later I let The Scientist know that I’d found my answer. What may appear from the outside to be smaller is on the whole simply changing shape. Again.

My Anxiety is Not Disordered

Bringing this post back for this month’s Down Wit Dat T21 Blog Hop


I’ve been thinking and reading a lot about anxiety recently. When I was diagnosed with Asperger’s, I was also diagnosed with Social Anxiety Disorder.

Here’s how I feel about that: Social Anxiety? Yes. Disorder? Not so much.

Disorder implies that my social anxiety is irrational. Is it? Consider this:

“Anxiety at appropriate levels is important for adaptive functioning. There are many environmental hazards that must be avoided and these are often learned through the process of anxiety induction. The resultant anxiety response is learned through the association of certain stimuli with unpleasant consequences.” (from “Autism and the Physiology of Stress and Anxiety”, Romanczyk and Gillis)

Anxiety, like fear, protects us from danger. It raises our guard and makes us wary. In this way, it’s healthy. Without it, we might be less motivated to get an education, to work, to care for our loved ones and ourselves.


What is Anxiety?

Anxiety is a state of worry, concern or dread related to something that hasn’t yet happened and may, in fact, never happen. Think about some things that we typically feel anxious about:

  • committing to a relationship
  • giving a major presentation for school or work
  • becoming a parent
  • meeting a partner’s family
  • starting a new job
  • learning to drive
  • flying on an airplane for the first time
  • traveling in a high crime area

When you feel anxious about an upcoming event, you spend more time thinking about it and preparing for it than you would for a more mundane activity. You examine the possible consequences and give extra attention to your actions to ensure the best possible outcome. Anxiety heightens your awareness; heightened awareness sharpens your focus, increasing your safety.

It’s important to note that here and throughout this piece, when I talk about anxiety, I’m referring to appropriate levels of anxiety, not paralyzing anxiety. An appropriate level of anxiety is one that is manageable. I feel nervous in the days before giving an important Powerpoint presentation, but I manage my anxiety and complete the presentation to the best of my ability. An inappropriate level of anxiety is one that prevents a person from completing a necessary or desired activity. For example, if I got so anxious about the presentation that I ended up sick in bed, fainted in the conference room, or lied to avoid presenting.

Not all anxiety is healthy and it’s important to recognize where your anxiety falls on the healthy/unhealthy continuum.

The Function of Social Anxiety in ASD

So that’s how anxiety works in the typical brain. But what about in the autistic brain?

From childhood, autistic people know that we’re missing key information in social situations. We often have difficulty interpreting facial expressions, tone of voice, body language, and non-concrete speech. Some people also struggle with auditory processing and sensory overload in public or group settings.

The results of our social communication challenges can range from inconvenient (missing a joke or not following a conversation) to dangerous (being bullied, taken advantage of or assaulted). There are also negative health consequences–many autistic people need hours or days to physically recover from prolonged or intense social interaction.

Over time, “through the process of anxiety induction,” we realize that certain social situations are “environmental hazards that must be avoided” (as Romanczyk and Gillis described). In other words, because of a very real hazard, we develop anxiety that for us has a very real cause. It isn’t disordered. It’s a defense mechanism, developed through “the association of certain stimuli with unpleasant consequences.”

Social anxiety is, therefore, not only “important for adaptive functioning” in autistic people, it’s essential.

traffic lightRed Light, Green Light

Autistic social anxiety is not the same as neurotypical social anxiety. If a person with intact social communication abilities has severe anxiety about social situations, then they have a disorder because their fear is irrational. When a person with impaired social communication abilities has anxiety about social situations, they are like a poor swimmer who is anxious about boarding a boat. The perceived risk is real and rational.

If fear is a red light–a glowing “stop” signal in our brain–then anxiety is a yellow light. It’s the feeling that says, “slow down, caution, stop and pause a moment before continuing down this road.”

We should heed this feeling, not cure ourselves of it.

Appropriate vs. Inappropriate

But, some will say, too much social anxiety and you’ll become a recluse! A hermit! The little old lady shouting at those darn kids to get off her lawn!

Well, yes and no. First of all, allow me to horrify the more socially oriented among you by saying this: people aren’t all that interesting and the rewards of socializing are sometimes overrated. Consider the possibility that all of the following (fictional) people are meeting their needs for social interaction:

  • the person who lives alone, works at home and in the evening participates in role-playing games, an acting workshop and a drumming circle
  • the person who lives with a partner and has lunch once a week with a close friend
  • the person who attends classes full-time and prefers to socialize online in text-based formats outside of class hours
  • the person who chooses to spend time at home with family and only goes out for necessary errands or events
  • the person who works around people all day and likes to spend their evenings alone

The social preferences of these people may differ from the majority of their peers, but they aren’t exactly in Grey Gardens territory.

Being anxious about socializing is not the same as completely avoiding social situations. It’s possible to manage social anxiety in the same way we manage anxiety about other things. Someone–NT or autistic–might feel anxious about starting a new job, but that doesn’t mean they won’t do it. Most people have strategies for managing anxiety and autistic people are no different.

What is different is that our social anxiety is automatically pathologized and then “treated” with therapy or medication. We’re told that our fear is irrational and we need to change the way we “think about” social interaction. We’re told that if we just “relax a little” we’ll find social interaction much more enjoyable.

What would be far more helpful is to acknowledge our anxiety as valid and support our right to socialize at our preferred level, in our preferred ways, without being stigmatized for it.

What Anxiety Tells Us

So how does social anxiety keep us safe?

First there is the obvious example: when you have difficulty interpreting nonverbal cues, it can be hard to know when another person is a threat. This can be especially true for autistic women and girls, increasing our chances of becoming the target of sexual assault, sexual abuse or domestic violence. The autistic woman who feels anxious about dating, intimate relationships or venturing into unfamiliar situations has good reason to–the statistics for violence against autistic women are alarming.

Autistic people are also often victims of bullying. The autistic boy or girl who is anxious about recess or the school bus has a large databank of negative interactions feeding that anxiety. Their anxiety tells them that unstructured activities with limited adult supervision are a potential danger zone.

Those are both reasonable examples, right? But what about the anxiety-inducing holiday party, trip to the mall, or vacation? Surely that’s irrational?

Not if you’re forced to think about every social activity in terms of cost. There are many analogies for this concept: spoon theory and the social cup vs. bucket analogy are the most popular. I’ll spare you a new analogy and give you an example instead.

Last spring my nephew and his wife came to visit for a long weekend. He’s one of my favorite nephews and I was looking forward to meeting his new wife. Still, I was anxious. Having two additional people in the house for three days would mean a disrupted schedule, unfamiliar noises and smells, a loss of my precious alone time and lots and lots of talking.

The Scientist and I came up with a schedule–scheduling is essential for me to get through three days of company–and then I set about thinking of ways to conserve my resources. I volunteered to drive because I find it relaxing.  We scheduled downtime for me on Saturday afternoon while everyone else went out. I suggested we visit a historical site that I knew well, because it would mean a familiar environment plus the chance to infodump in a socially acceptable way.

We had a great time. They enjoyed the places we visited and the meals I cooked. We laughed a lot and had meaningful conversations. Things couldn’t have gone better. And still, Saturday night as everyone sat around the dinner table talking for hours after the meal was finished, I found myself shaking uncontrollably.

Even with all of my planning, even though I was enjoying myself, the day’s socializing had overwhelmed me. I knew it was coming, had felt myself shutting down as the evening wore on, but I ignored the warning signs. I didn’t want to end a great day on a bad note.

Unfortunately, it’s not about what I want. Social interaction has a real physical cost for autistic people. If I don’t listen to the voice of caution in my head and limit my interactions, my body will eventually take over and limit them for me.

When I’m in a situation where I feel comfortable, I can handle longer interactions. If I have to deal with unstructured activities, unfamiliar places, new people, rapid shifts in conversation partners or topics, or any of a long list of other things I find challenging, I’ll hit my limit sooner. An hour might be all I can deal with before I start feeling a strong need to escape.

Since being diagnosed with Asperger’s, I’m getting better at “reading” myself. The anxiety, the need to escape, the withdrawal that precedes the uncontrollable shaking–these are not things I need to be cured of. They are signs that I need to take care–yellow lights to be heeded–and I’m learning to listen to them.

Taking the Friendship Questionnaire (FQ)

This week I took the Friendship Questionnaire (sometimes called the Friendship Quotient).

The Friendship Questionnaire (FQ) was developed in 2003 as part of Simon Baron-Cohen’s ongoing quest to prove his “extreme male brain” theory of Asperger’s. Consequently, the FQ measures a very specific model of friendship to prove a point about people on the spectrum.

The developers of the FQ say that an individual will score highly on it if they:

  • enjoy close, empathic supportive friendships
  • like and are interested in people
  • enjoy interaction with others for its own sake
  • find friendships important (Baron-Cohen and Wheelwright, 2003)

The questions are based on assumed gender differences in forming friendships. The FQ developers hypothesized that NT women would score highest, with men scoring slightly lower than NT women, and ASD individuals of both genders scoring significantly lower than NT men.

The average FQ scores from the 2003 study were:

  • NT females: 90.0
  • NT males: 70.3
  • ASD females: 59.8
  • ASD males: 53.2

The fundamental basis for the gender-difference hypothesis seems to be that men and people on the spectrum prefer activity-based friendships. Neurotypical women, on the other hand, are assumed to prefer interaction-based friendships, where the act of connecting is of primary importance.

Since every friendship I’ve had as an adult has grown out of a common interest, it’s safe to say I fall into the activity-based preference. Honestly, I have no real idea how friendship works in most cases, so let’s take the test.

Taking the Test

You can take the FQ at the Aspie Tests website. Click the link for the Friendship Quotient and then complete the first three questions (you don’t need to create an account unless you want to) and click the submit button to start the quiz.

There are 34 multiple choice questions.

I found some of these questions hard to answer because there was no “neither” option. For example, on #6 I literally don’t have a wide enough social circle that it requires me to choose between asking someone to meet first or thinking of an activity then choosing a person to do it with. #9: I have no idea. Neither? Why is there no neither option?!

For some questions, I ended up choosing answers based on how I’ve interacted with friends in the past because I couldn’t come up with a current example to base my answer on.

Scoring the Test

After submitting your answers, you’ll get your FQ score. The possible scoring range is 0 to 135. I got 39.

Average scores by gender for the FQ (aspietests.org)
Average scores by gender and neurotype for the FQ (aspietests.org)
FQ score distribution by neurotype
FQ score distribution by neurotype (aspietests.org)

I’m not sure what to make of my 39. I’m not surprised by it. Going down the list of qualities that the FQ tests for:

  • I enjoy close, supportive friendships, but I don’t need more than a couple at a time to feel that I have supportive connections in my life.
  • I don’t really like or have an interest in people as a general rule (sorry, human race).
  • I don’t generally enjoy interaction with others for its own sake, which is different from not enjoying interaction with others at all.
  • I find friendship moderately important, but again I don’t need many friends to feel like I have a satisfactory level of social interaction in my life.

The Bottom Line

The research I read on the FQ doesn’t imply that a low FQ score is “bad”, which is good to see, because I think the FQ is testing for a very specific model of friendship. The research does say that those with low FQ scores tend to have high AQ and low EQ scores.