What is Masking in Autism?

What is Masking in Autism?

What is Masking in Autism?

For most individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder, being exposed to a demanding social atmosphere often forces an autistic person to enter a state of survival.

This can either lead to social isolation or a phenomenon known as Masking.

Masking in Autism is a survival tactic experienced by autistic persons as a way to hide autistic traits and stray away from their neurodiverse presenting selves.

Masking in Autism typically incorporates actively hiding stimming behaviors, forcibly ignoring sensory overload, and even mimicking the personality traits of others to appear normal.

Many autistic persons feel the need to mask or do so automatically as a result of trauma, such as bullying and being shamed and humiliated for their natural behaviors.

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What Masking in Autism Looks Like

Masking in Autism may not be apparent to everyone. 

When an autistic person is masking it will often go unrecognized.

Sometimes masking becomes so prevalent in an autistic individual that others around them may not even be aware that their friend or classmate has the diagnosis or traits.

Masking in Autism can look like this:

  • Showing a disregard for personal interests.
  • Forcing eye contact during a conversation
  • Mimicking the behaviors of their peers, such as copying phrases, posture, and slang.
  • Adapting the likes and dislikes of someone that seems well admired by other people
  • Hiding stimming behaviors, or lessening the duration of stimming in hopes that it goes unnoticed
  • Engaging in small talk, or other forms of conversation that are not typically enjoyed by people with autism.
  • Trying to bear the weight of sensory overload as long as possible without breaking down.

Reasons for Masking in Autism

Masking in Autism most often occurs when the pressure to fit in overtakes the ability to function in a way that is deemed to be socially acceptable.

Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder may also have a difficult time being accepted by their peers.

In order to fit in, they will mask to appear neurotypical and avoid negative feedback towards their more natural behaviors, and ways of socializing.

Many autistic persons feel the need to mask or do so automatically as a result of trauma, such as bullying and being shamed and humiliated for their natural behaviors.

This can lead to fear, anxiety, depression, and an unbearable feeling of loneliness.

Entering a new social space can be very panic-inducing for an autistic individual.

An autistic person can struggle to adapt to a new social setting and situation.

Autistics may analyze the actions, speech patterns, and personalities of those around them. 

This process could be viewed as an urgency to create a mask when being uncomfortable in a social setting.

The Impact of Masking

Masking in Autism takes a tremendous amount of energy, whether it is intentional, or not.

While masking can be an effective way of getting through a shift at work, an interview, or a family gathering; masking also comes with a lot of negative consequences.

When masking becomes a daily routine, a person with autism may have a difficult time understanding who they really are.

This poses a threat to their self-identity since they regularly neglect their own interests, passions, and behaviors for the benefit of others.

For those who mask constantly, it can be very difficult to remember how it felt to be themselves without the pressure to mask.

This can cause a lot of internal disconnect with how autistics view themselves.

This may present in the form of confidence issues, insecurities, and a myriad of symptoms that harm self view.

Autistics may often find themselves in situations where they question if this is who they really are, or if it is the result of being unable to separate from the mask.

Excessive masking can sometimes result in Autistic Burnout, which can lead to the inability to mask in various situations.

How to Manage Autistic Burnout

In order to recover from the exhaustion of Masking in Autism, an autistic person may need to take a copious amount of time socially isolating in order to recharge and be free of the mask.

Time alone gives autistics the opportunity to engage in their beloved hobbies and take the needed time to just be themselves without having to worry about the judgment of others.

Here is what Autistic Burnout can look like:

  • Increased fatigue
  • Lethargy
  • Little interest in doing things
  • Increased social isolation
  • More noticeable autistic behavior
  • The need to rest and recharge


On top of being drained from masking and no longer being able to effectively mask, burnout often leads to increased symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Conclusion

Understanding and recognizing Masking in Autism is important, but more importantly, we need to allow and encourage autistics to be themselves in a safe setting.

Allowing autistics to feel safe being themselves will create the foundation of support needed to help autistics thrive in the neurotypical society.

Spreading awareness, but most importantly acceptance of Autism will help allow autistic people to feel more comfortable being themselves.

Allowing Autistic Persons to express themselves openly and freely will reduce the energy and effort required to mask.

It may also one day allow more autistics to not feel that they need to mask ever again, thus allowing them to bring their beautiful and unique personalities to light.

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October 7th, 2022