What Is Masking in Autism?
Masking refers to hiding or changing aspects of oneself to better conform to societal norms and more neurotypical behaviours in surroundings by continually concealing their unique traits.
Within the Autism community, masking entails the subconscious or conscious effort to suppress behaviours that provide personal comfort but may be viewed by society as unconventional. Moreover, it involves mirroring the actions of those around us, imitating non-verbal social cues well, and constructing complex social scripts to navigate social situations. Masking behaviour is motivated by the desire to conform and evade the prejudices and judgments often associated with being perceived as “different.”
As we progress, let us foster understanding, compassion, and inclusion, empowering Autistic people to flourish authentically. Together, we can unravel the beauty within the Autism spectrum, embracing the vibrant kaleidoscope of human diversity.
Effects of Masking
People on the Autism spectrum who engage in masking tend to display increased indicators of anxiety and depression.
Masking consumes valuable inner resources that can leave people feeling exhausted. Additionally, it can hinder the development of authentic identities. The pressure to conform often leaves Autistic adults with limited time and energy to pursue their desires or express themselves.
Even when an Autistic person employs masking techniques, neurotypical individuals tend to evaluate them more critically compared to their neurotypical counterparts, usually when the neurotypical individuals are unaware of the individual’s Autism diagnosis.
By working together, we can create an environment that celebrates diversity and embraces people’s unique differences. At Nurseline Community Services, we provide person-centred, nurse-led support for Autistic individuals, improving well-being and embracing the unique differences of the people we serve.
Is Autism Masking Good or Bad?
Masking requires a lot of cognitive effort, which is draining and can lead to Autistic burnout and exhaustion. Over time, this behaviour can negatively impact one’s sense of self and true belonging, ultimately affecting mental health.
Autism masking can have negative effects on Autistic people with mental health difficulties and their well-being. Firstly, when Autistic people engage in masking, they often experience heightened levels of stress, anxiety, and depression. Suppressing their natural behaviours and masking their true selves heavily impacts their mental and emotional state. This can severely affect their overall mental and physical health, leading to a decreased quality of life.
Moreover, Autistic masking prevents people from fully embracing their unique traits, strengths and abilities. People on the Autism spectrum possess incredible talents and perspectives that contribute positively to society. By masking, they may feel compelled to conform to societal norms, sacrificing their authentic selves and mental health.
Embracing neurodiversity and celebrating the diverse skills and talents of Autistic individuals can lead to a more inclusive and enriched society where everyone’s contributions are valued and respected.
Anxiety and Autistic masking are closely intertwined; understanding this relationship is crucial for supporting people on the Autism spectrum.
The act of masking sensory differences can contribute to increased levels of anxiety. Constantly suppressing one’s natural behaviours and trying to conform to societal expectations can create tension and unease. This anxiety can manifest in various ways, such as social anxiety, generalised anxiety disorder, or even panic attacks, as the pressure to keep masking neurological differences of Autism and perform according to neurotypical standards becomes overwhelming.
It’s essential to recognise that masking is not an innate flaw or weakness in Autistic individuals.
By understanding the link between anxiety and masking, we can work towards creating a more inclusive environment that encourages acceptance and supports the mental well-being of people on the Autism spectrum. Providing spaces where neurodiverse individuals feel safe to express themselves authentically and reducing the societal pressure to which masking occurs can help alleviate anxiety and promote a sense of belonging and self-acceptance.
A person having to hide their neurodiverse behaviour and interests constantly can lead to a strong feeling of isolation, disconnection, and internal conflict.
As a result, individuals may experience a heightened and increased possibility of developing depression as they face the emotional toll of masking. This ongoing pressure can undermine mental well-being, leading to a higher vulnerability to depression and mental health difficulties.
Autism Masking Symptoms
It is essential to acknowledge that what might appear as characteristics indicating masking for some individuals could be signs of communication and social skills in others. Each person’s journey is unique, and people on the Autism spectrum who require minimal support may adopt different approaches to social communication than those who require more substantial support.
Recognising potential masking signs can help individuals and their support networks identify when this coping mechanism is in play. Masking signs may include:
- Mirroring others’ facial expressions or social behaviours
- Preparing rehearsed responses to comments
- Intense sensory discomfort
- Hiding stimming behaviours
- Social camouflaging
- Imitating gestures like handshakes or initiating eye contact
- Experiencing emotional dysregulation or shutdowns after extended social engagements
Autism Masking Examples
There are some examples of Autism masking where Autistic people adapt their behaviours according to different circumstances. Here are some common examples:
- Autistic people may mirror or imitate the facial expressions and social behaviours of others
- An autistic person may rehearse and prepare scripted responses to expected comments or questions, aiming to navigate social interactions smoothly
- Autistic people might imitate gestures such as handshakes or initiating eye contact, even if these actions don’t come naturally
- In unfamiliar environments, autistic people may find it challenging to disguise their Autistic traits, but they may attempt to do so to avoid standing out or experiencing judgment
- Prolonged social meetings can be overwhelming for an Autistic person, leading to emotional withdrawal after such encounters due to masking
Autistic people can use coping strategies to reduce masking and embrace their uniqueness, such as:
By recognising the masking tendencies and understanding the toll they can take on their self-esteem, well-being and mental health, Autistic people can begin the journey towards self-acceptance. Engaging in self-reflection and seeking support from trusted healthcare professionals can provide valuable insights and validation.
- Fostering a Supportive Network
Surrounding oneself with understanding friends, family members, or support groups can create meaningful relationships and a safe space where Autistic people feel comfortable expressing who exactly they are without fear of judgment or rejection. Connecting with the Autistic community can also provide a sense of belonging and a platform for celebrating and sharing their unique strengths, talents, and perspectives.
Language Matters: Positively Impacting the Lives of Autistic People
Focused on the importance of language, we at Nurseline Community Services create a place where everyone feels as one, accepted for who they are and valued for their differences.
Using compassionate and inclusive language, we can create a space where Autistic voices are heard and valued, their challenges acknowledged with empathy, and their achievements celebrated with genuine appreciation. Therefore, we have created a small but mindful guide that will produce a positive shift and a smile on people’s faces that holds unparalleled worth when it comes to neurodivergence.
Please kindly use the following wording when addressing Autistic people:
- Autistic people rather than People with Autism
- Autistic adults/children rather than Adults/children with Autism
- People on the Autism spectrum rather than People on the Autism spectrum conditions
- Autism/the Autism spectrum rather than Autism Spectrum Disorder/ASD
- May be Autistic/increased likelihood of being Autistic rather than Risk of Autism
- Neurodiverse people rather than Neurotypical people
Outcome-Based Approach and Humanised Care with Nurseline Community Services
It is in our clinician’s work ethic to recognise and value the unique traits and strengths of the Autistic people we support. By embracing neurodiversity and fostering acceptance and understanding, we create inclusive environments for Autistic people to encourage authenticity and reduce the pressures associated with masking.
We deliver our services across the UK, and you can contact us today at our offices in Bristol, Birmingham and Gloucester and let us bring more independence and fulfilment in the lives of your loved ones.