Lessons learnt from taking the Broad Autism Phenotype Test


Image by Christolakis via Flickr

I recently came across something called the “Broad Autism Phenotype” (BAP) test. My natural inclination with online autism tests, is to be sceptical and weary, particularly because I’d come across other online tests that made everyone come out as “a little bit autistic”: Autism is a serious and real condition, and those sorts of tests seemed to trivialize both its seriousness and reality. I do see some worth in such tests, in as far as they can help identify whether someone should perhaps seek a confirmed diagnosis from a professional, but I would never rely on such a test for a diagnosis (no one should).

The BAP test though, comes from scientific literature, and has a specific aim: To identify “the phenotypic expression of the genetic liability to autism, in non-autistic relatives of autistic individuals.” Being such a relative, and having no confirmed (but suspected) family history of autistic-type behaviour, that intrigued me. So I took the test, which you can find here (try to ignore the “OK Cupid” bit, yes I know it’s off-putting and makes it hard to take it seriously). And this was my result:

Rigid Personality

You scored 59 aloof, 96 rigid and 45 pragmatic

You scored above the cutoff for rigid personality, which means you probably don’t really like changes, especially unexpected ones. You may have a daily routine that you seldom vary, dislike going to unfamiliar places or meeting new people, or have specific rules about how you do things which you refuse to change. However, you are not particularly aloof, and probably don’t have much trouble with social communication. You are probably on the broader autistic phenotype.

All previous tests looking for traits of autism or autism itself, have indicated me to be nowhere near the spectrum; yet what this test was looking for, and what it concluded, made sense to me: Yes, I am very “rigid”, and my rigidity can make life very difficult and stressful for me and those around me. I’ve often thought it was rather beyond the “norm”. I have coping strategies for the fact that I hate change and new things; I plan everything out carefully in advance, I do dummy-runs of events, and I allow a lot of extra time for things to get done so I don’t have to make any quick decisions without time to adjust. I always have numerous contingency plans so even when things don’t go as planned, I still have a plan! If someone proposes a change or something new to me, my gut reaction is to always say “no”, so I actively remind myself to not give an answer straight away; give myself time to adjust and think it through first.

This aspect of my personality has gotten worse since having my autistic son, because now that change and newness upsets him too, it pushes my own anxiety levels even higher in response: I try to avoid “the unexpected” on behalf of us both. There is the upside though that my personal awareness and understanding of these anxieties, has helped me to advocate for him and explain his behaviours to others. It also helps me to effectively implement methods that aim to lower his own anxieties around change.

Still, for all these insights and seeming truisms, I wanted to test friends and relatives to see if the test matched them too, and indeed to see if it revealed a family history. The test had performed well at picking up autistic people over at this other blog post, and I was very impressed with how well it performed with my friends and family too. It picked out those friends of mine who were diagnosed with autism already, and those who already knew they sat close to the edges of the spectrum. It turned out what I perceive as correct responses about the neurotypicalness of certain friends and family members. And then we get to the bits that really got to me.

My husband, who also had never came off as having autistic traits on previous online tests, was also neurotypical on this test. In turn, I think I can rather reliably say that the rest of his immediate family (brothers, parents etc) are very unlikely to get a positive response on the BAP test. My own siblings came off as neurotypical. But my parent, got over the cut-off for both “rigidity” and “aloofness” on the test (though neither of those are words I would have ever applied to their personality – the terms need to be taken within the context of the test). The test concluded my parent was “probably either on the broader autistic phenotype or actually autistic.”

So, considering the test is trying to identify signs of genetic predisposition to autism, as evidenced in non-autistic relatives, it seems to have identified that the genetics have carried down the family line from my parent, to me, to my child. Anecdotally, there’s good reason to think that it travels further up the family tree in that same direction too.

So how do I feel about all of this? Rather positively actually. I feel like I have a clue to understanding where my son’s autism comes from. And it doesn’t feel like playing the blame-game either. I don’t blame my parent, or myself. I know genetics is complicated, and for all I know there’s something in my husband that triggered what would have otherwise remained dormant, hell, who knows. Even if it was “my fault” – even if it is my genetics – that doesn’t upset me. My son is who he is, and having a hint at the “reason” for it, doesn’t change him, or my attitude towards him, in any way. It’s just interesting to know.

It does suggest that my son’s specific autism was not the result of some random genetic mutation (as some autism apparently is), but that it was something already in my genes. That apparently impacts the likelihood of any future children having autism. But we always knew there was a higher chance of our future offspring having autism anyway, and we still had our second son knowing those risks. And I am so incredibly glad we took that risk; I love both my sons beyond measure.

The information makes me think differently about my own aversion to change and newness. I have always battled with that aspect of myself; variously fighting it, trying to deny it, or being miserable about it. But now I view it as perhaps just a part of me, to be accepted and managed as best I can, through the sorts of methods I already use (much as autism is a part of my son, that we also manage in a variety of ways). Not as something I must stamp out and battle with. I can even see it as a strength – it is a large part of the reason I am almost always on time to events, and am well prepared for things like exams and jobs. It’s a nuisance at times, sure, but many things in life are; it’s our attitudes towards, and management of, those nuisances, which can make all the difference.

So there we have it. Maybe I fit within the broad autism phenotype. Maybe I have a family history of people who do the same. Or maybe its just another online test that tells stories rather than truths. Either way, it opened my eyes to certain possibilities and understandings, and was a positive experience for me. I’d love to hear your own thoughts about, and experiences with the test too.

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13 Responses to Lessons learnt from taking the Broad Autism Phenotype Test

  1. sharon says:

    Holy Moley that is funny, I just posted for today on my blog and then saw you had posted the exact same topic, and… we got the same result. That’s brilliant.

  2. sharon says:

    I just ckecked the Autism Blogs Directory, we posted three minutes apart. Great Rigid minds think alike 🙂

  3. Aspergirl Maybe says:

    I think it is so great that you got some helpful insights from this test. I learned in college that a good test should also be a learning experience, and this one was definitely better than most of the questionnaire type things I have seen on the topic of autism.

    I scored 108 aloof, 120 rigid and 95 pragmatic, BTW (and blogged about it the other day as well). 🙂

    • Well said; that a good test should be a learning experience. In which case, this really was a very worthwhile exercise.

      I’ve just popped over and checked out your blog post about it too. The comments there provide further evidence that this test really does appear to be doing a good job of identifying people who are autistic, and of the broad autism phenotype.

      (Here’s a link to Aspergirl Maybe’s post on the topic, for those who want to check it out too: http://aspergirlmaybe.wordpress.com/2011/04/29/autistic-or-bappy/ )

  4. Rachel says:

    Very interesting! It’s great that you’re able to see your rigidity as a positive. I feel the same way about mine. In fact, I don’t consider it rigidity so much as a craving for order and simplicity. It’s what’s allowed me to make a success of a great many things, despite my challenges.

    In my case as in your son’s, the autism is definitely genetic — my father and his aunt were both very clearly on the spectrum. If you shake my family tree a little bit, I’m sure that even more autists would fall out.

  5. Bill says:

    I am endowed with Asperger’s.

    I intend to look into the intriguing test you cite, but before I do, I just wanted to share my opinion on passing down autism genes.
    I have been aware of my very high IQ since a counselor in high school used it like a bat to beat into me what an underperformer I was. (I of course am now aware that some of those gaps in my performance relate to AS.) If I wasn’t helpless at remembering people I would go back and thank him for the boost it gave to my ego after always being called stupid because of some of my obvious failings. (I lack the ability to memorize anything involving abstract symbols, for instance, mathematical formulas. I got a degree in engineering in spite of the handicap by a process of deriving the formulas I need from proofs, a process which is very time consuming, yet which I had to do before I could answer the first question in every test.)
    I was very lucky to marry a very intelligent woman. Many successful, intelligent people feel that it is their responsibility to “save” the planet by not having children. I felt it was my responsibility to save the planet from mediocrity by having quite a few children, and so I did.
    Only one of my children seems neurotypical; the rest range from quirky to endowed with Asperger’s to cursed with Asperger’s.
    If I had to do it over again, I think I still would have all the children; the only thing I would change is how they were raised and disciplined. Not knowing what autism or Asperger’s was (even the shrinks back then would not have heard of Asperger’s), I was inclined to raise my kids the same way my AS father raised his AS kids, a trajectory which clashed mightily with my wife’s attitudes toward child rearing and discipline.
    If we could do it all over again, I think my wife would understand why I was right on some things, and I would understand why I was wrong on some things. We were in the dark, not recognizing what hand flapping meant, not understanding how a child could be awake in the middle of the night getting into mischief. One shrink told us our son was a menace to society who needed to be institutionalized. Another told us he had seen boys like him; just keep him busy with hobbies and activities. (I chose the latter, because I had seen boys like him too; my brothers, and myself in the mirror.)
    I and my brothers and uncles have each played a part in great inventions and new technologies and great constructs, and I hope every one of my children has the opportunity to be a positive contribution to society, eccentric or not.

  6. Bill says:

    Just for grins, I did the test. It’s a bit different than the other tests I’ve seen; most notably leaves off the stuff about imagination (which I thought was bogus anyway!)
    Unfortunately it keeps some silly aspects of the other tests; how is a person who isn’t very social, and hasn’t a clue about why they are unsuccessful with casual relationships and small talk, supposed to know what other people think of their social skills, especially when polite people would never say something critical, like, “you are boring me”, or “haven’t you talked about that overly long?”?

    Here’s my score:
    “Autistic/BAP You scored 124 aloof, 129 rigid and 105 pragmatic”

    No big surprise here!

    • I totally agree that the test has some problems – any test that asks someone to self-analyse skills and others’ perceptions, has significant margin for error (which is just a small part of why I think anyone who’s “worried” they have autism, should always seek an objective diagnosis from a professional, not trust an online test). But for all its problems, the test is doing a remarkably good job of “picking out” autistic from neurotypical people, and the gradiants in-between, when matched to existing diagnoses and when I get my NT friends to try it out too.

  7. I was interested in this after reading a recent article (which I couldn’t find again). Let me first say I have a 13 year old son who has been diagnosed with AS. From 4 to 11 things were crazy and behaviors were all across the board. Plus, he regressed in speech and just would not go to sleep at night.

    The more I have learned over the past couple of years I understand and I can “see” how his behaviors were signs that just apparently didn’t make sense (or alert) his doctors.

    Anyway, since I read about the Broad Autism Phenotype and how the child was essentially an intensified version of the parents I wanted to take this test. I know that my son has some of my behaviors and some of his mother’s. So, the results:

    “Aloof and rigid
    You scored 95 aloof, 95 rigid and 70 pragmatic
    You score above the cutoff for both aloof personality and rigid personality, which means you’re probably not very interested in interacting with other people and don’t like changes. You might have a tendency to be fairly controlling in interactions or prefer doing things by yourself partly because you have more control. However, when you decide to interact, you probably don’t have too much difficulty communicating with the other person and making a good impression. You are probably either on the broader autistic phenotype or actually autistic.”

    Now, I am a successful professional and I can’t quite grasp this result. What I can say is that I strive for and harp on consistency. I used to be a bartender, but I felt isolated behind the bar. When I was a patron I felt uneasy and all noise meshed into an interference of sorts. Many times people have told me that I was rigid or inflexible. I guess most of the results here are spot on.

    So, I guess I need to do more research on BAP because I am fairly certain that I am not “actually autistic.”

    Thanks for sharing this.

    • My pleasure, and yes it is an interesting exercise, but a limited one in as far as trying to take away any new truths. I think it is more useful for potential insights and a better appreciation of the sorts of behaviours we exhibit as parents that end up revealing to us just how much we do (or even don’t) have in common with how our autistic children understand and experience the world.

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

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