Friday, 26 August 2016

What does the Autism Spectrum Quotient (AQ) actually measure?

"Higher AQ [Autism Spectrum Quotient] scores were associated with higher scores of loneliness, social anxiety, depression, and anxiety, as well as with lower scores of quality of life (QoL)."

Those were some of the key findings reported by Phil Reed and colleagues [1] who used the very popular 'are you autistic?' AQ screening tool to look at the presence of autistic traits "along with depression, anxiety, loneliness, quality of life, and social anxiety" in a University student cohort (N=413).

Finding that among their research population some 8% scored above the cut-offs used by the AQ, researchers also reported those important 'associations' all tied into QofL.

Accepting that I'm probably a little biased when it comes to the 'problematic' use of the AQ as a screening tool for autism (see here and see here), my interpretation of the Reed results plays into the idea that the AQ is certainly picking up something, but exactly what is still the source of some debate (see here). I might for example, point you in the direction of the findings by Kitazoe and colleagues [2] who, based on similar student cohort, talked about "qualitatively different groups" over and above "a single homogeneous group" when it came to high scorers on the AQ.

It is also pretty well accepted that issues such as social anxiety and depression are over-represented when it comes to a diagnosis of autism (see here and see here respectively) and one has to wonder whether the AQ might be tuned into to the features of those labels over and above core autism. Indeed, going back a few years, the findings reported by Kunihira and colleagues [3] kinda signalled as much where personality traits "toward an obsessional personality" were seemingly connected to AQ scores in a non-autistic population as well as "higher depression and anxiety." Such findings might also be 'useful' when it comes to looking at the AQ in the context of eating disorders too [4].

I look forward to seeing more research done on this important topic (something ripe for more University student research projects perhaps).


[1] Reed P. et al. Loneliness and Social Anxiety Mediate the Relationship between Autism Quotient and Quality of Life in University Students. J Dev Phys Disabil. 2016. Aug 12.

[2] Kitazoe N. et al. Whether the Autism Spectrum Quotient consists of two different subgroups? Cluster analysis of the Autism Spectrum Quotient in general population. Autism. 2016 Apr 30. pii: 1362361316638787.

[3] Kunihira Y. et al. 'Autistic' traits in non-autistic Japanese populations: relationships with personality traits and cognitive ability. J Autism Dev Disord. 2006 May;36(4):553-66.

[4] Mansour S. et al. Emotions mediate the relationship between autistic traits and disordered eating: A new autistic-emotional model for eating pathology. Psychiatry Res. 2016 Aug 8;245:119-126.

---------- Reed, P., Giles, A., Gavin, M., Carter, N., & Osborne, L. (2016). Loneliness and Social Anxiety Mediate the Relationship between Autism Quotient and Quality of Life in University Students Journal of Developmental and Physical Disabilities DOI: 10.1007/s10882-016-9504-2