Masking in Autism: 5 Negative Effects and Support Strategies

Masking in Autism 5 Negative Effects and Support Strategies

What is masking in autism?

Masking in autism denotes the conscious or unconscious efforts made by individuals with autism to suppress their characteristic behaviors, thus appearing more ‘neurotypical.’ A fundamental human desire for social integration and acceptance drives this phenomenon. However, in a world primarily dominated by neurotypical individuals, those who are neurodivergent often encounter heightened challenges in their attempts to fit in and establish connections, thereby resorting to masking.

This practice of masking autism, although it facilitates temporary assimilation into mainstream society, can have significant repercussions on the well-being of those who engage in it. In this comprehensive guide by ABA Centers of America, we will explore in-depth the question: What is masking in autism? We will examine its implications and discuss strategies for fostering a more inclusive environment that encourages acceptance of the full spectrum of autistic behaviors.

Defining Masking in Autism

Masking, also known as camouflage in autism, is a response that some individuals with autism adopt, often driven by apprehension about displaying behaviors deemed “unusual” or “atypical” by neurotypical individuals.

To fully grasp the concept of masking in autism, it’s essential to understand that the CDC classifies Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) as a developmental disorder rooted in variations in brain function. Although there is a significant genetic component, the precise cause remains unknown. People with ASD typically exhibit distinct patterns of communication, interaction, learning, and behavior compared to most individuals. Each person on the spectrum possesses unique characteristics, encompassing a range of abilities, strengths, and challenges, frequently manifesting in difficulties with communication, social interaction, repetitive behaviors, and limited interests.

As children with ASD transition into adolescence and adulthood, they often encounter challenges in forming and sustaining friendships, interacting with peers, and comprehending the behavioral expectations in school or work environments. This situation sometimes prompts individuals to practice masking autism, concealing certain traits to assimilate more closely with their neurotypical counterparts, for example, hiding their actual interests or repressing stimming behaviors. The absence of an autism diagnosis can heighten the likelihood of masking, as children may not understand the reasons behind their behaviors and needs, and those around them may not offer appropriate support.

Kajsa Igelström, Assistant Professor of Neuroscience at Linköping University in Sweden, contends that “masking is frequently the outcome of a desperate, and often subconscious, battle for survival,” as, despite societal calls for embracing diversity, many remain unsympathetic and punish or bully those exhibiting different behaviors.

Many young individuals with autism begin to masking to blend in at school. However, this behavior is not limited to childhood and can lead to some people with autism remaining undiagnosed. While masking has enabled some to form friendships and secure employment, it is more prevalent among women. A report by Spectrum News indicates that men are diagnosed with autism four times as often as women. However, recent discussions have emerged questioning whether autism is genuinely more prevalent in males or whether women with high intelligence quotients (IQ) tend to camouflage their autism symptoms more effectively, leading to later-life diagnoses.

Obtaining a formal diagnosis allows women to gain a deeper understanding of themselves and access more substantial support. However, some women express that it brings its challenges, including the stigma associated with the label and diminished expectations for accomplishments.

5 Negative Effects of Masking in Autism

The adverse effects of masking in autism lead to avoidance of a diagnosis until adulthood. Although these behaviors can sometimes help individuals on the spectrum progress socially and professionally, they can also cause significant harm. Masking in autism causes people to be perceived differently in social contexts while something else is going on inside.

  1. Depression and Anxiety: The Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders suggests that adults who practice autism masking are more likely to face stress, depression, and anxiety. External and personal acceptance plays a crucial role in mental health, and analyses suggest that autism masking experiences may result in higher rates of depression.
  2. Burnout: Masking behaviors in autism require considerable effort, and most people who practice camouflaging describe feeling wholly exhausted mentally, physically, and emotionally.
  3. Loss of Skills: Loss of skills can be a consequence of burnout, characterized by intense physical, mental, or emotional exhaustion. Many individuals with autism note that this may result from difficulty navigating a world designed for neurotypical people. Those masking autism are constantly in denial of their needs and may become completely exhausted, thus experiencing a loss of abilities.
  4. Delayed Diagnosis: Masking the symptoms of autism makes it difficult for caregivers to identify the areas of development that require support in children, leading to overlooking the situation and not receiving a diagnosis and necessary support. Early diagnosis and intervention offer invaluable developmental benefits for individuals with autism, who, in the long term, may benefit from tools to successfully manage various life situations, as well as learn and improve essential skills and achieve independence, among others.
  5. Loss of Identity: People who practice masking in autism often adopt different roles to disguise their behaviors over the years, losing sight of their true identity. In addition, this increases their sense of loneliness, as they feel that their friendships are not authentic.

Strategies for Fostering Autism Acceptance

Promoting autism acceptance is a crucial step towards diminishing the need for masking in autism. The primary reason neurodiverse individuals resort to this coping mechanism is their desire for acceptance and their fear of being misunderstood or mistreated.

At ABA Centers of America, we champion autism advocacy and strive daily to ensure that individuals and families living with autism can lead fulfilled and joyful lives. With the following strategies, we can foster autism acceptance:

  • Demonstrate Acceptance: If a loved one displays traits of autism, it’s essential to reassure them that they are perfectly fine as they are and don’t need to mask their true selves. Regardless of where they fall on the spectrum, affirm their worthiness of love and acceptance, emphasizing that they should never feel ashamed to be authentic.
  • Implement Appropriate Solutions: Not all behaviors associated with autism require intervention, particularly those posing no harm. However, individuals with autism can substitute certain stimulatory behaviors with other alternatives. For instance, fidget spinners or rocking chairs may be suitable substitutes for individuals who habitually lick their hands or rock back and forth.
  • Advocate for Autism Awareness: Creating a world more accepting of differences necessitates active discussion and advocacy for autism-related causes. Educating oneself about autism, sharing information, and fostering dialogue are critical steps toward increasing public awareness of the disorder. A greater understanding of specific behaviors exhibited by neurodiverse individuals, such as avoiding eye contact, can enhance interactions with them and prevent undue labeling, judgment, or rejection.
  • Celebrate Individual Value: Autism offers an opportunity to appreciate diverse ways of perceiving and experiencing the world. Embracing diversity and differences from a learning perspective can foster empathy and drive positive societal change.
  • Engage in ABA Therapy: Experts recommend ABA therapy for children, adolescents, and adults with autism. This therapy centers on teaching essential skills and alternative coping strategies without attempting to alter the individual’s personality. It aims to understand the external factors influencing their behavior and work towards minimizing or eliminating them, thus benefiting those with autism. Additionally, ABA therapy equips individuals for life transitions such as school and career planning, arming them with practical tools that prioritize their needs and well-being.

More About ABA Centers of America

ABA Centers of America offers its services to all neurodiverse individuals in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, regardless of age. Our ABA diagnostic and therapy services can be beneficial to those individuals on the spectrum seeking support.

Masking in autism carries numerous consequences that no one should experience. We all have the right to be our most authentic selves and receive acceptance and love. Through our ABA therapy, children, adolescents, and adults can get the support they need to navigate the world, considering their needs to learn skills and enhance their strengths without the need to mask their autism.

To learn more about autism, receive a diagnosis, or begin ABA therapy, we invite you to visit our website or call us at (844) 923-4222. Neurodiversity shouldn’t be something to be ashamed of but a unique and valuable aspect of human diversity that enriches our collective experience!

Discover how our autism treatment services can help you.

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