This is the internet weblog of Bix Frankonis.

I just took a SPARK survey about sound sensitivities and health and like most surveys it frustrated me with the phrasing of its questions. Let’s take just one example.

I tend to think about people in the same way that I do objects.

I know what they’re doing here: they are trying to measure empathy. The problem is that an affirmative answer could either mean the respondent thinks of people as if they are objects, or the respondent thinks of objects as if they are people.

Many autistic people are quick to mention, in discussions of autistic empathy, that we often find ourselves interacting with, or speaking to, objects in the same way in which we do people. It’s a sort of excess of empathy.

I wouldn’t be able to count the number of times I’ve apologized to a wall or a coffeetable for bumping into it.

The question, then, is actually completely useless as an indicator of anything to the researchers. There’s an anti-empathy bias built into the phrasing, and any affirmative answer will be taken as a lack of empathy on the part of the autistic respondent.

I’ll galling, and exhausting.

The survey did have a feedback section at the end, so I left the following comment.

Questions are leading and framed in a biased way. For example, “I tend to think about people in the same way that I do objects.” is clearly designed to measure the degree to which an autistic person doesn’t have empathy, but that wording just as easily can elicit a positive response from autistic people who experience empathy for both people and objects. So, as phrased, the question is worthless and will result in an analysis that doesn’t necessarily reflect the lived realities of the people answering it.