“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
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.
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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.
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?”
- 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
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- Did you learn to drive at a later age because you weren’t ready at age 16? (Or, if you’re old enough to drive, are you unable to do so at all?)
- 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?
- 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
- 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.
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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.
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.
- How to recognize signs of autism in yourself (including signs of autism not listed here)
- How to distinguish between autism and other conditions
- How to tell your parents you think you’re autistic (for those who live with parents)
- How to be ready for an autism assessment
- How to cope with an autism diagnosis or how to cope with discovering you aren’t autistic
Please feel free to check out wikiHow’s autism resources. They can help you take the next steps.
I also have autism 101 posts if you’d like to learn more.
If you’re in the mood, feel free to share your score and whether you’re autistic (or suspected autistic) in the comments.