The Perils of Online Testing for Asperger’s

online-test-0611135It used to be that only first-year medical students fell into the trap of feeling symptomatic of every issue they encountered for the first time. Now, anyone with a computer can dip into an online discussion and come away with a checklist of symptoms and technical language that can fool the shrewdest clinician, at least for a few minutes. This process can also result in an incorrect and stress-inducing understanding of one’s personality and characteristics.

I recently had a new client come to my office convinced that she had Asperger’s syndrome. She had taken one of the many self-administered tests on the Internet, and as a result of her scores, she diagnosed herself and made an appointment with me to learn how to live with her new view of herself. She presented with anxiety and confusion, determined to apply the template of what she understood of Asperger’s to every quirk and tendency she had ever identified within herself since early childhood.

It is always a possibility, of course, that such a test will render an accurate appraisal, and that a person who scores high on an Asperger’s test actually fits the profile. If you take such a test and your score is high, it is probably a good idea to do some reality testing by checking in with a psychotherapist who is qualified to help you sort things out. If you do, in fact, fall on the high end of the autism spectrum, which is where we find Asperger’s, working with a skilled psychotherapist who specializes in helping people like you can be a valuable use of your time. If you do not fall on the spectrum, psychotherapy can help you understand what drew you to taking the test in the first place, and which parts of your life bring you the stress that underlies your initial impulse to consider whether they are a result of Asperger’s.

It is also possible, therefore, that traits often associated with Asperger’s can be attributed to other qualities in a person. Such is the case with my client.

For example, a preference for doing things on your own as opposed to with others can indicate Asperger’s. It can also result from an essentially introverted orientation (finding energy renewal in solitude), which is normal for introverts, while a preference for operating in groups is normal for extroverts, who recharge their energy through interactions with others.

Getting involved in something intensely to the extent that you lose interest in everything else around you can indicate Asperger’s. It can also be a way to describe Michelangelo, whose work consumed him during times of intense creative activity.

Tending to notice details that others overlook can be related to Asperger’s. It can also be related to the hypersensitivity that often accompanies giftedness, which can manifest as an acute awareness of all environmental and ambient stimuli for some individuals.

In fact, many of the qualities that go into a diagnosis of Asperger’s are normal ways of being in the world for the intellectually gifted. Since this is the other arm of my clinical practice—working with gifted individuals—I often see confusion on these overlaps.

In summary, if you want to use one of the online tests to check yourself for Asperger’s, do so. If your results feel confirmatory, however, it does not mean you are actually on the spectrum. I suggest that you take your test results to a therapist who works with Asperger’s for a consultation. If you can also find a therapist who is also familiar with the qualities associated with intellectual giftedness, that is the therapist who can be most helpful to you in teasing out the facts in your test results.

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  • Ben

    Ben

    June 11th, 2013 at 2:56 PM

    I know that there are alot of great things that we can find online, but I seriously doubt that testing for Aspergers; would be one that would fall into that category. As a matter of fact I have a hard time giving myself any kind of diagnosis from what I find online. It must be pretty seductive to think that there is something wrong with you and find that neat little box for it to fit into via your online research. But I think that most diagnoses are going to require a whole lot more than some yes or no test that you find while surfing the web. If you want real confirmation I would definitely see a specialist, and not take some website at their word. Like I keep telling my own kids, not everything that you see online is truth.

  • Cole Roberts

    Cole Roberts

    June 12th, 2013 at 4:11 AM

    the perils of online testing for anything. . .
    i don’t want to leave my health up to something that I find online

  • Sarah Swenson

    Sarah Swenson

    June 12th, 2013 at 7:01 AM

    Ben, I completely agree with you, which is why I wrote this post. It is risky to trust online tests as the last word on diagnosis or prognosis of any sort. They allow people to form the impression that they understand complex issues. These issues have often been simplified into uselessness, even though they may appear meaningful to individuals who do not have clinical training. Yes – always check with a professional before settling into any diagnosis resulting from an internet test.

  • Sarah Swenson

    Sarah Swenson

    June 12th, 2013 at 9:04 AM

    Cole, I agree! Some online tests are downright goofy, yet they appear to be substantive to anyone who might be unfamiliar with the material.

  • Yvonne

    Yvonne

    January 2nd, 2014 at 1:16 PM

    One important point is that not only can these online tests lead people to misdiagnose themselves, but also to NOT diagnose themselves when they do indeed have a condition. I did a test online which would indicate I’m not on the spectrum because of the gender bias inherent in these tests. I have, however, been reading about women with Asperger’s recently, and have identified so strongly with the profile that I am now seeking a diagnosis from a professional. Regardless of what my results may be, these online tests don’t give the full picture and can do a lot more harm than good, particularly for undiagnosed women on the spectrum.

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