Autism Spectrum Disorder occurs in approximately 1 in 59 individuals. According to a recent study, some adults on the autism spectrum alter or hide their autism-specific traits and behaviors in social settings. This phenomenon is referred to as masking or camouflaging behaviors. Reasons for changing their behaviors may include trying to pass for a neuro-typical person, managing interactions in formal and relationship-based contexts, avoiding bullying, and ensuring that others have a positive perception of them and their abilities.
Although masking and camouflaging behaviors may be common amongst people with autism, it often comes at a cost. When people with autism mask their autism-specific traits at high rates, or when they switch between masking and not masking, mental health outcomes suffer. More specifically, adults with autism who either mask in professional settings (such as work or school) or interpersonal settings (such as with friends or family) tend to have higher levels of stress. However, those who do not camouflage their traits as much tend to have lower levels of stress. Findings indicate that overall, both men and women tend to mask their behaviors more often in more formal settings. However, women tend to mask their behaviors more often than men, possibly due to the pressures of their multiple minority status.
These findings highlight the importance of mental health services beyond the diagnosis for adults on the autism spectrum, and the special attention that should be paid to those who tend to camouflage their behaviors across different settings.
Sophie Manevich, M.A.
Cage, E., & Troxell-Whitman, Z. (2019). Understanding the Reasons, Contexts and Costs of Camouflaging for Autistic Adults. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 49(5), 1899–1911. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-018-03878-x