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:
You scored 59 aloof, 96 rigid and 45 pragmatic
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.