Commonly Used Autism Questionnaire May Be Unreliable, According to New Study
A test commonly used by doctors and researchers to measure autistic personality may be less reliable than previously thought, according to a new study from psychologists at the University of Bath, King’s College London, and Cardiff. The test, a 10-item questionnaire known as the Autism Spectrum Quotient (AQ10), asks those taking it to report if they have personality traits connected with autism. The questionnaire is recommended as a screening tool for autism in adults by England’s National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), the government body responsible for making recommendations to clinical practice. The new study, published this month in the Cambridge University Press journal Experimental Results, investigated AQ10’s effectiveness by examining data from more than 6,500 participants from the general population. The researchers found that the questionnaire showed poor reliability across several statistical techniques, leading them to call its accuracy into question. “Our findings add further evidence to a growing body of literature indicating that the measures of autism and autistic traits currently used in research are inadequate,” Dr. Punit Shah, a senior author of the study, was quoted as saying in a report by MedicalXpress.com. “A lot of what we know about autism—and how to help people with autism—has come from studies where these tools are used,” Shah added. “However, if the measure of autism is unreliable, as we suggest, so too are the findings and conclusions. Without reliable measures, it is unclear if the findings from these studies are valid, and may be hampering the support we provide for people with autistic personalities or diagnosed autism in society."
Emily Taylor, a Ph.D. researcher on the team, said she hopes the study’s findings will contribute to examining and refining the tools used in autism research. “Our analyses used a large sample without medical diagnoses, so the next step would be to conduct follow-up studies in equally large clinical samples,” Taylor said. "More generally, we have focused on a measure of autistic traits, but we know that there are similar reliability problems with measures of mental health tools. We need far more 'basic' science to examine and address these issues in future research, towards improving their application in the management of mental health difficulties in society."