There is still a lot to learn about autism in our world today, and one of the most discussed topics related to people with autism is the process of “masking.” Autism masking involves suppressing elements of a person’s identity as an individual with autism. Here’s what to know about this process.
What Does Autistic Masking Mean?
Autistic masking is a term used to describe the process of suppressing or hiding elements of a person’s autistic identity.
There are some people who refer to autism masking as a strategy for “social survival” and is used by individuals with autism to help them conform to expected societal “norms.” Many individuals with autism will also use masking to cope with situations or environments and avoid expressing anxiety. It’s basically used to suppress differences or become unassuming in order to make sure others don’t notice.
While it may not sound like a particularly significant process, it can require a lot of effort on part of the individual to mask their natural tendencies, and there can be some side effects of autism masking if individuals aren’t careful.
Autistic Masking Examples
Masking can take many different forms, and they can be both conscious, or unconscious, strategies used across different situations. Here are some of the most common examples of autistic masking:
- Mimicking the social behavior of others, such as repeating phrases, copying gestures or mimicking facial expressions instead of acting on their own accord.
- Deliberating faking eye contact while having conversations with another person.
- Hiding their own intense interests from everyone, including those close to them.
- Scripting or rehearsing conversations before they happen.
- Preparing a stock of phrases or sayings to use in conversations.
- Suppressing stimming, or self-stimming, behaviors that they typically repeat, including jumping, whistling or finger-clicking. These behaviors are often used to self-regulate.
- Internalizing or not sharing sensory discomfort in certain situations.
Masking happens with both male and female individuals with autism and while it is not specific to a certain gender, some experts suggest that females do it far more than men. In fact, some believe that one of the reasons that fewer females are diagnosed with autism has to do with the high levels of masking among females. It is suggested that children who are raised as girls have a higher propensity of masking.
Why Might Children and Young People Mask?
Most of the current research regarding masking behaviors has to do with adults with autism, however, there is a consensus in the community that there needs to be more research on why young people engage in this behavior—and how it starts.
Children may internalize the anxiety that autism can generate and mask in order to get through the school day or deal with social interactions with their peers. Many children also fear that they will be mocked or ostracized with other children if they are “different” or don’t try to conform to societal norms.
Effects of Masking
So, considering that masking is a common occurrence among individuals with autism—what are the longer-term effects of engaging in this behavior?
There are unfortunately detrimental long-term effects of having to mask. This may include:
- Autistic fatigue or burnout (feeling very exhausted and having more meltdowns due to the effort involved in masking their autism)
- Rejection of their own identity.
- Low self-esteem
- Issues with mental health
- Anxiety and depression
- Increased risk of suicidal thoughts
- Feelings of their needs not being met or recognized
- Delayed diagnosis or lack of autism diagnosis
There are some serious long-term effects of autism masking, which is why it is important for adults and parents alike to understand the implications involved with masking.
How to Support Children Who Mask Their Needs
If you assume that you have a child who may be masking their autism, here are a few ways to offer support to autistic children:
1. Develop Your Own Understanding of Autism
The first and most important thing for adults to do in this situation is to develop their own understanding of autism. As autism diagnosis rates continue to grow, there has become a greater understanding of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
An understanding of autism and the challenges it brings is the best way to start helping any individual who may be masking their autism symptoms.
2. Promote an Inclusive Culture
Promoting a culture of inclusivity among everyone is a great way to encourage a person with autism to limit their masking behaviors. A culture of inclusivity encourages individuals with all types of differences to be more accepting not only of others but of themselves.
3. Provide Individualized Support
Many times, individuals with autism engage in masking behaviors because they don’t feel enough support to be themselves. This is why it is important for parents, caregivers and other adults to provide support to children with autism to make certain they feel confident in themselves so they don’t rely on masking behaviors.
4. Listen to Experts
There are so many experts today who work directly with individuals with autism and these can be great resources to help identify masking behaviors and to make sure that individuals who are masking aren’t engaging in behaviors that could lead to serious side effects.
Remember, with children, many times they are masking in order to fit in, which can be difficult for any child. Have patience with children—they may want to mask because it helps them feel more included which in and of itself can be a very delicate topic for kids of all ages to deal with.
If you are ready to work with the best ABA therapy provider in New York, New Jersey or Indiana, give us a call at (732) 402-0297. Our dedicated team is ready to help and we will treat you like family.