Steve Asbell’s Autistic Masking Quiz

Preface

Art of a person crying behind a happy mask
Autistic masking can conceal a person’s struggles.

“Autistic masking” is the practice of hiding one’s own autistic traits, sometimes to the detriment of mental health. Autistic people do it consciously or unconsciously to “fit in” with the non-autistic world and avoid mistreatment.

Autistic masking can also make it harder to get a diagnosis. If you spend years learning to mimic non-autistic behavior, other people (even professionals!) might assume you’re non-autistic.

So if you’re looking for diagnosis and support, what do you do?

Autistic writer and artist Steve Asbell came up with an impressive set of questions to help identify autistic masking. With permission, I’m sharing them here in an easy-to-read format. They have been lightly edited and reorganized into sections.

Please note that this is not an official diagnostic resource. It’s here to help you consider whether an autism evaluation would be worth it.

Steve Asbell Autism Quotient, Revised

Give yourself a point if one or more aspects of the question apply to you.

Masking and compensating behaviors

A comic by Steve Asbell showing Stimmy Kitty quietly enduring stress and discomfort at school. It builds up like an oncoming thunderstorm.
Do you bottle things up in order to avoid being “weird” or “too sensitive?” (Art by Steve Asbell)

Many autistic people, regardless of whether they realize they’re autistic, learn ways to “blend in” or “get by” in a confusing and difficult world.

  1. Have you ever felt as if you were missing the built-in instruction manual that everyone else seemed to possess?
    • Did you spend an inordinate amount of time learning to copy the behavior of other kids so that they wouldn’t realize you were different?
  2. Are you able to make eye contact, but would much rather NOT make eye contact?
    • Have you taught yourself to “cheat” by looking between the eyes or at the eyebrow?
    • Does eye contact make it harder to think clearly?
  3. Have you purposely chosen interests that fly under the radar as “normal,” yet you still prefer to enjoy peripheral aspects of that interest, such as studying the stats of baseball players or making elaborate backstories for your Barbie dolls?
  4. Have you developed coping mechanisms such as lists, schedules, stacks of paper, alarms and reminders to help you function as an adult?
    • Would you still be able to get by without them?

Subscore: ___ / 4

How other people see you

Being autistic in a non-autistic world frequently means being misunderstood.

A comic by Steve Asbell showing people talking around and saying unkind things about Stimmy Kitty, who struggles to speak and then runs away crying.
Are you often misunderstood or judged when you’re trying your hardest? (Art by Steve Asbell)
  1. Do people refer to you as a “space cadet” or a “day-dreamer,” even though those terms make no sense to you?
    • Do you appreciate unusual things like constellations in the popcorn ceiling, tricks of light, numbers and textures?
  2. Do people jokingly call you “OCD” for your organizational strategies or list making, even though there are perfectly rational reasons for your behavior?
    • Does this “obsessive” behavior also bring you a sense of calm and order when you’re allowed to see it though to completion?
  3. Do people assume you’re angry at them when you’re not? Do you smile or laugh inappropriately, upsetting others? Have people told you that you have a “resting b*tch face?”
  4. When you get happy and excited, do people say you’re “too much” or tell you to calm down?
    • Are you unusually animated when genuinely excited, yet find it hard to fake this enthusiasm on demand for others?
    • Have you ever been misdiagnosed with bipolar disorder or borderline personality disorder?

Some of this will depend on whether other people are jerks. Give yourself points if other people comment on it, regardless of whether they’re judgmental.

Subscore: ___ / 4

Secret struggles

A comic by Steve Asbell shows Stimmy Kitty trying to focus on reading in a library section. She gets startled by another person making noise, and then the person acts like Stimmy is being rude for reacting that way.
Do people think you’re overreacting when you’re really underreacting? (Art by Steve Asbell)
  1. Do your anxiety levels spike when there is a change of plans, or when somebody calls, rings a doorbell or sends an email/text?
    • Do people perceive you as rude and antisocial for being unappreciative of their surprise attacks?
  2. Do you have social anxiety, but only because you have a hefty track record of rejection due to missed social cues, difficulty navigating conversations and an inability to understand what other people are thinking?
  3. Is keeping and maintaining relationships difficult for you, even if you’re loyal to them?
    • Do you suddenly remember a good friend or relative that you literally forgot about for months or years?
    • Is it hard to initiate conversations without a prompt, even with friends?
  4. Do you find it inordinately difficult to listen to someone when other people are talking?
    • Do you have a hard time carrying on a conversation in a loud or crowded place?
  5. Do you avoid places because of the overwhelming noise, visual clutter, bright lights or overwhelming smells?
    • Do you avoid busy stores and do your shopping when things aren’t as busy?
  6. Is driving a stressful and exhausting experience for you?
    • Do you tend to take the same familiar route every time and even go so far as to avoid stressful intersections and fast highways?
    • Do you struggle making quick decisions behind the steering wheel?
    • Was learning to drive unusually difficult for you?
  7. Do you go through periods where you can’t even remember how to make dinner or get ready for work, and even the easiest of tasks seem insurmountable because you can’t fathom completing the steps to completion?
  8. Do emotions and sensory overload build up into a thunderstorm of rage, panic, or despair that you have no choice but to ride out until it passes? This might be a meltdown.
    • Alternately, does the buildup result in you retreating from the world and “zoning out?” This would be a “shutdown.”

Subscore: ___ / 8

Different experiences

Four-panel comic of the character Stimmy Kitty rocking back and forth in a state of calm and bliss. Others don't understand how good it feels.
Do “odd” things make you truly happy? (Art by Steve Asbell)
  1. When you’re alone, do you make random noises or repeat interesting words to yourself?
    • Do you move your hands or feet because staying still feels “wrong?”
    • Bonus point if you do this around other people.
  2. Do you have a hard time recognizing or remembering faces? While not all autistics are “face blind,” many of us are.
    • Do you fail to recognize people outside of the usual context, such as meeting a teacher in the grocery store?
    • Have you ever tried to purposefully teach yourself how to identify someone?
  3. Do you have a hard time understanding why people feel the way they do without a personal point of reference?
    • Are you able to relate much more once you’ve tied their experience to something that’s happened to you?
  4. Do you have a built-in “BS detector” and despise playing along with things that infantilize you?
    • Have people said you’re “not a team player” for complaining about pointless gift exchanges or parties?
    • Do you need to understand the purpose of a task?
  5. Do you abhor the idea of making conversation with people who share nothing in common with you?
    • Would you happily go out of your comfort zone to talk with others about a shared hobby or passion?
  6. Do you have an unusually monotonous or singsong voice?
    • Do you have a hard time modulating your volume and speak with inappropriate volume for the situation?
    • Have people commented that your pitch, tone, volume, or other aspects of speech are unusual?
  7. Do you feel so closely connected to your hobbies that you can blissfully engage in them for hours and have a hard time stopping for anything else?
    • Does losing interest in them make you feel as if you’ve lost a part of yourself?
  8. Do you find it easier to do things when they’re a passion or “special interest?”
    • Were you good at cooking/gardening/organizing when it was interesting, but find it impossible to start once the passion has abandoned you?
  9. Do you feel as if you relate to animals more than other people?
    • As a child, did you secretly suspect that you were from another planet or species than that of your classmates?
    • When meeting someone similar to yourself, do you feel like you’re “home,” so to speak?
  10. While not officially criteria, this is something that many autistics will relate to:
    • Do gender, romantic and sexuality norms seem arbitrary and fake?
    • Even if you don’t identify as LGBTQ+, do you hesitate when referring to yourself as cisgender or heterosexual?
  11. Lastly, do you get emotional and feel “seen” when reading the above tweets and other content by autistics? There might be a reason for that.

Subscore: ___ / 11

Total score: ___ / 27

Understanding your score

There is no definitive cutoff for whether this means you’re autistic. This is because:

  • Autism is really complicated and can manifest in many different ways. It’s normal to have some traits more than other traits.
  • If you’re anything like me, you’ll overthink it and be unsure whether to give yourself points in specific areas.
    • It’s also possible that you’ll realize later that more of these apply to you than you thought.
  • A high score could mean autism… or it could mean a similar condition or a combination of them. For example, a combination of ADHD and NVLD can resemble autism very closely.
  • Neither Steve nor I are licensed psychologists and this has not undergone peer-reviewed research.

A high score means that you might want to look into getting an evaluation.

Results are variable.

  • I scored 24, including the bonus point. I’m significantly disabled and used to mask heavily.
  • On Twitter, many people who knew they were autistic scored in the 19 to 27 range
  • On Twitter, many of the people questioning whether they were autistic scored 14 or higher. Some of these people are probably autistic.
  • A few people with conditions similar to autism (like ADHD) scored in the teens.
  • My neurotypical dad scored about 2 and a half.

Please keep in mind that the Twitter scores are based on the original (un-revised) edition, and that I haven’t read all of them or conducted a statistical analysis.

Now what?

Did you score in the teens or twenties? It might be worth investigating this. Luckily, I have a ton of wikiHow articles ready for you.

Please feel free to check out wikiHow’s autism resources. They can help you take the next steps.

Thanks to Steve Asbell for developing this brilliant questionnaire. If you’d like it, feel free to drop by his Ko-fi or check out more of his comics.

If you’re in the mood, feel free to share your score and whether you’re autistic (or suspected autistic) in the comments.

16 thoughts on “Steve Asbell’s Autistic Masking Quiz

  1. I definitely answered yes to everything. But I have the confidence of an NHS (U.K.) diagnosis.

    I think if I didn’t, I would be tempted to talk myself out of several of them.

    This should be in the hands of every adult autism diagnostic clinician!

    Thank you for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Impostor syndrome can be a real stinker. Mine went away when my dad and I were asked to the Vineland questionnaire and it came back in the “moderate to severe” range for developmental delay. No way I could be faking that.

      Yes, I’m really glad this is reaching people. Most of the credit goes to Steve Asbell.

      Like

  2. I meet all of the “unusual person” aspects of autism, such as intense passions, strange happiness behaviors, having to teach myself to “normalize” (eww!), and not feeling like I came from any sort of place that my peers did, but none of the “developmental disability” ones. I know that you are well-versed in disorders – does that sound like it could connect to anything that you have heard of?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Quite a few conditions are similar to autism. Off the top of my head, I would recommend looking into…

      ADHD https://www.wikihow.com/Distinguish-Between-ADHD-and-Autism
      Nonverbal Learning Disorder (strong verbal skills, struggles in other areas) https://www.wikihow.com/Recognize-the-Signs-of-NVLD-%28Nonverbal-Learning-Disability%29
      Social Communication Disorder
      There’s also a non-disability condition called Sensory Processing Sensitivity. People who have it are sometimes called Highly Sensitive People (HSPs).

      This one lists a ton of other conditions that can look similar to autism.
      https://www.wikihow.com/Distinguish-Between-Autism-and-Other-Conditions

      It does sound like you’re likely neurodivergent. Also, keep in mind that not every autistic person has developmental delays early on; I was on or ahead of schedule for early childhood milestones and then behind schedule for things like bike-riding, clothes-washing, driving, and other late childhood/teen milestones.

      Like

  3. I loved this. I included this in my self assessment docs with running commentary by me after doing it on Steve’s tweets. For years I wondered why I could tell 2 very different people apart or why there seemed to be so many disturbing patterns in tiles. Get almost all of these fully and most partially. I’m a great masker but it exhausts the heck out of me. I sometimes feel my special interests are driving me to do them rather than me doing them because I had energy to

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks Luna. Appreciate all your assistance. Sometimes masking can be (exhaustively) helpful but I’m trying to find times where I can unmask more. Interestingly I was chatting with my CEO at work and they suggested a great ASD focussed clinicthat their friend went too. I think that I’m in a good place to have an accepting workplace. Yay Arts industry

        Liked by 1 person

  4. 28 including the bonus point.

    I was already pretty sure about my self-diagnosis (after getting a bunch of fairly shocking childhood stories from my parents — like sitting to one side of preschool play for 6 months watching and refusing to participate until I *understood* it –), but wow. This is nailing all the ways that autistic people can look allistic to outsiders while having an internally autistic-type perception.

    I almost said no on the face-blindness question, since I’m definitely not face-blind, but then I read the subsidiary bullet points: I do consciously file away traits in order to identify people (“right, she’s the one with that hairdo”) *and* I often can’t place people out of context.

    I make eye contact but I realized I generally prefer to talk while facing away from the person I’m talking to… I just check occasionally to make sure they haven’t walked away.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, Steve came up with some really insightful questions.

      Just so you know, face-blindness isn’t always severe. It can be mild or moderate. Based on what you’re saying, you may have mild or moderate face-blindness. (I took a test once and got a score that was average for people with prosopagnosia, so I consider myself face-blind. I may not recognize people out of context, I try to know them by hair or other traits, and I have failed to recognize my mom a few times when she changes her hair.)

      Like

  5. EEEE!! It includes the comics and alfj;flsdajfl I’m so happy! Steve is the one who got me to re watch Star vs the Forces of Evil again! So shout out to him! And I love this I love quizzes like this I wanna take it even though i am already dxed.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I really enjoyed putting this together; Steve’s questionnaire is such a good one.

      You can totally take the quiz! (I did too, after all.) Comment with your results if you like. I think it may be helpful for possibly-autistic readers to know what scores autistic people tend to get.

      Like

  6. That “constellations in the popcorn ceiling” detail was especially true to my experience, and one that I haven’t seen used as an example for these types of questionnaires before. I always did this as a young kid (and still do!), long before I even considered the possibility of being autistic. I’ve also seen faces in cars before (the headlights resembling eyes, and so on). In your humble opinion, do you think this could be connected, or just a mundane form of pareidolia?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t know!

      I looked for constellations in popcorn ceilings, as well as the walls. The bathroom wall had one that looked like a jumping girl. One place I stayed at had wood ceilings and it looked like Halloween monsters above my head. I loved that.

      I think autistic people have an eye for detail, so we notice these things more than non-autistics do.

      Like

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