Autism Spectrum Quotient (AQ)
By Maggie Bowman
Psychology Research Assistant
✅ Coming soon on Bravely Connect
The AQ is a self-report measure used to assess five different domains of autism-affected traits. It consists of 50 questions which ask clients how much they agree with various statements describing either autism-related traits or neurotypical traits. Total scores are calculated via the summation of each item where an autism-related trait was endorsed and a neurotypical trait was denied. The scores on the AQ range from 0 to 50, with higher scores indicating a greater number of autism-related traits. Limitations for the AQ include its inability to diagnose autism spectrum disorders, inaccessibility for people with severe cognitive impairments, lower sensitivity for women, and Western-centrism. Even with these limitations, the AQ may be helpful for screening clients for autism-related traits and identifying people who may benefit from referrals for a more extensive diagnostic assessment.
📏 Lengths: 50 questions (5-10 minutes)
📋 Administration: Self-administered
🎯 Uses: Assessing severity of autism symptoms
⚠️ Important Caveats: Less sensitive in women with ASD, tests only five domains, created for high-functioning individuals
✅ Available in Bravely Connect? Yes
🌏 Culturally Applicable? Developed and validated mainly in Western cultures
💬 Translations? 40+ via the Autism Research Centre
The AQ Question type and length
The client is presented with 50 questions asking how much they agree with various statements describing either autism-related traits or neurotypical traits. Each question has the same selection of answers: definitely agree, slightly agree, slightly disagree, and definitely disagree.
Here is an example of an item from the AQ asking about an autism-related trait:
I prefer to do things the same way over and over again.
Here is another example of an item from the AQ, this time asking about a neurotypical trait:
In a social group, I can easily keep track of several different people’s conversations.
For the full list of questions check out the measures on Bravely Connect, or follow the following link to the original unautomated version: AQ for adults (16+)
What does the AQ measure
The AQ consists of 50 items that assess five different domains of autism-affected traits: social skills, communication, imagination, attention to detail, and attention switching. There are ten questions for each of the five domains. The AQ is not a diagnostic tool, but rather a measure of the degree to which an individual has traits associated with autism. Higher scores indicate higher levels of autism-related traits.
AQ Factor structure
The creators of the AQ intended to assess five distinct domains of autism-related traits. However, different studies conducting factor analysis suggest that the originally proposed five-factor model of the AQ may be inadequate. One 2005 study by Elizabeth Austin found that a three-factor model of poor social skills, attention to details and patterns, and poor communication/mindreading skills fit data resulting from approximately 300 adults taking the AQ. Another study of over 900 adults posits a two-factor model in which the social skill, communication, attention switching, and imagination domains are clustered together under a broader “social interaction” factor with attention to detail existing as a smaller second factor (Hoekstra et al., 2008).
The history and theory behind the AQ
Simon Baron-Cohen and his colleagues at the Autism Research Centre at the University of Cambridge developed the Autism Spectrum Quotient (AQ) in 2001. It was developed as a tool for measuring the degree to which an individual has traits associated with autism. The measure was created in response to emerging research supporting the existence of autism symptoms on a spectrum with varying degrees of severity and impairment. The AQ was developed based on the theory of the "autism phenotype," which refers to the collection of traits that are commonly associated with autism, but which do not necessarily meet the criteria for a full diagnosis of the disorder.
Preexisting instruments such as Autism Diagnostic Interview and Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule were time-consuming while other measures could not be self-administered. The AQ established itself as the first brief, self-administered instrument for identifying autism-related traits in adults (Baron-Cohen et al., 2001). Along with efficiency, the AQ also benefits from strong test-retest reliability, face validity, and interrater reliability.
AQ Scoring Interpretation
Despite each item having four possible responses, the scoring for AQ items is essentially binary. On items assessing autism-related traits, the answers “definitely agree” or “slightly agree” score one point; “slightly disagree” or “definitely disagree” score no points on these items. Items assessing neurotypical traits are reverse-scored with “slightly disagree” or “definitely disagree” scoring one point and the affirmative answers scoring no points. Points are then added to calculate the total score. The scores on the AQ range from 0 to 50. The authors of the AQ found that a score of 32 or higher tends to identify respondents with clinically significant levels of autism-related traits; 80% of autistic respondents met or exceeded a score of 32 compared to only 2% of neurotypical controls (Baron-Cohen et al., 2001, p. 12).
Who developed the measures, licensing and how to obtain the AQ
The AQ was developed by Simon Baron-Cohen and his colleagues at the Autism Research Centre at the University of Cambridge in 2001. Items were developed based on prior research indicating a “triad” of autism symptoms and other cognitive abnormalities commonly observed in people with autism.
For noncommercial use by researchers and clinicians, there are no licensing requirements for the AQ. Any use of the AQ should be accompanied by acknowledgment of the Autism Research Centre as the source of the measure.
The AQ is available on Bravely Connect as part of our automated measures. See the AQ on Bravely Connect →
There are currently over 40 translations of the AQ. If you find a version you’d like adding to Bravely Connect then just let us know here.
Limitations, biases and when you should/shouldn’t use the AQ
The AQ is a self-report questionnaire that measures traits associated with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), but the Autism Research Centre notes that it is not a diagnostic tool; diagnoses result from clinical assessment, not any distinct cutoff on the AQ. The authors of the AQ suggest that AQ scores are best used for research purposes and screening for individuals who may need referral for a more extensive diagnostic assessment.
Besides its lack of utility as a diagnostic tool, clinicians should also be aware that the AQ is not appropriate for use with severely cognitively impaired individuals. Another important consideration is that the AQ has been found to have a lower sensitivity in identifying autism in women as they tend to score lower on the test than men.
Also important to note is that the AQ was developed and validated primarily in Western cultures and in samples where the majority of participants were university students. Although Baron-Cohen’s findings with the AQ have been successfully replicated in Japan, Austria, Italy, the Netherlands, Scotland, Canada, and Taiwan, there is still the possibility that one’s cultural background may influence their responses on the AQ. As Lau et al. elegantly explain in their 2013 study, culture influences personality traits such as neuroticism, extraversion, and conscientiousness, which in turn are associated with differing results on the AQ.
As always, if you’ve found a measure you would like adding to Bravely Connect as an automated measure, just drop us a measure request here.
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