What is masking?
Masking (also known as autism camouflaging) is an exhausting and complex survival strategy for people with autism, which typically involves learning, practicing and performing certain neurotypical behaviours in social situations in order to feel more like the people around them.
Masking typically occurs most often in those with high-functioning autism.
Why do people feel the need to mask?
There are many reasons why those with autism may feel the need to mask, but primarily this centres around hiding certain behaviours for fear of not being accepted by those around them. This may include at school, in the workplace, with potential partners, to avoid mistreatment or bullying and just generally fitting in and making friends.
Masking may include (but is not limited to):
· Forcing eye contact during face-to-face conversation
· Mimicking smiles or other gestures
· Hiding personal interests from others
· Scripting or rehearsing responses or conversations
Interestingly, research into gender differences between autistic and non-autistic adolescents by Sedgewick F, et al, (2016), shows that people who identify as women are more likely to mask than those who identify as men, and autistic girls and women are more likely to develop friendships than autistic boys and men.
What are the effects of masking?
Although masking may make those with autism feel as if they fit in better with those who are neurotypical, masking can come at a significant cost.
It is thought that masking regularly can lead to stress and anxiety, depression, exhaustion, delayed identification of autism, loss of identity and an increase in suicidal thoughts.
What can be done to help those who mask?
The biggest step towards helping those who mask, is to better educate ourselves and those around us about autism, and to increase our understanding and acceptance of those who are neurodiverse. No one should ever feel pressured into ‘fitting in’, or feel the need to change who they are in order to please other people. Differences should be celebrated, not hidden away behind a mask.
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