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Neurodiversity Series Part 6 - Masking

Read Part 1- Introduction here

Read Part 2 - Double Empathy Problem here

Read Part 3 - All you need to know about ABA here

Read Part 4 - Why we don't use Social Thinking or run 'What's the Buzz' programs? here

Read Part 5 - Neurodiversity Affirming Social Communication here.


Autistic masking is a term used to describe the practice of concealing one’s autistic traits in order to fit in with neurotypical social norms. This is often seen in autistic individuals whether its formally or self-diagnosed. Recent research has shown that autistic females may be particularly prone to this phenomenon.

Masking can take many forms, including social mimicry, suppressing stimming behavior, and learning to hide or modify speech patterns. While masking can be a useful coping mechanism in certain situations, it can also be harmful in the long term.

Impact of masking

Masking can take a significant toll on an individual's mental health. The act of masking can cause an immense amount of stress and anxiety, leading to burnout and exhaustion. In fact, a study by the Autism Research Centre found that masking was associated with increased levels of anxiety and depression in autistic individuals. This is because masking requires a great deal of mental effort and can be incredibly exhausting, especially if maintained for an extended period of time. It can also cause a sense of isolation, as the individual may feel that they are not being true to themselves or that they are unable to connect with others in an authentic way.

Additionally, masking can lead to misunderstandings and miscommunications. When an autistic individual is masking, they may appear to be neurotypical, which can lead others to misinterpret their intentions or emotions. This can create a significant amount of confusion and frustration for both the individual and those around them. In some cases, masking can also result in misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis, as the individual's autistic traits are hidden or suppressed.

It is important to note that masking is often not a choice for autistic individuals. It is a coping mechanism that is developed as a response to the pressure to conform to neurotypical social norms. It is a survival strategy that allows the individual to navigate social situations and avoid negative consequences such as bullying or rejection. However, it is important to recognize that masking is not sustainable in the long term and can have significant negative effects on an individual's mental health and wellbeing.

Autistic females

Autistic females often face unique challenges that can make masking more difficult to avoid. For example, many girls and women with autism are socialized to prioritize social conformity and pleasing others over expressing their own needs and preferences. This can make it more difficult for autistic females to express their autistic traits openly and honestly, as they may feel pressure to conform to social expectations and avoid standing out.

Another challenge that autistic females face is the misperception that autism primarily affects males. This can make it more difficult for autistic females to receive a timely and accurate diagnosis, as their symptoms may be dismissed or misinterpreted. As a result, many autistic females may go undiagnosed until later in life, which can make it more challenging to develop effective coping strategies and receive appropriate support.

Embracing their autistic identity

There are a number of strategies that can be used to reduce the need for masking and support autistic individuals in being their authentic selves. One approach is to create safe and inclusive spaces where individuals feel comfortable expressing their autistic traits without fear of judgment or discrimination. This can be achieved by promoting acceptance and understanding of autism and creating opportunities for individuals to connect with others who share similar experiences.

Another approach is to provide support and resources for developing self-advocacy skills. This can include teaching individuals how to communicate their needs and boundaries, as well as how to seek accommodations or modifications that will enable them to succeed in different environments. Developing self-advocacy skills can help individuals feel more empowered and confident in their ability to navigate social situations.

Finally, it is important to provide access to therapy and support services that are neurodiversity-affirming and specifically tailored to the needs of autistic individuals. These services can help individuals develop coping strategies that are more effective than masking and can support their mental health and wellbeing in the long term.

In conclusion, masking is a common but harmful practice that many autistic individuals engage in as a coping mechanism. While it may provide short-term benefits in certain situations, it can have significant negative effects on an individual's mental health and wellbeing in the long term. It is important to recognize the challenges associated with masking and to develop strategies to reduce the need for it and support individuals in being their authentic selves. With the right support and resources, autistic individuals can thrive and contribute to society in meaningful and valuable ways.

Speech Pathologists & Occupational Therapists Adelaide

Speech pathologists and occupational therapists at Nurture Allied Health are passionate about learning directly from autistic individuals themselves to educate us on how we can better understand and support them in an empathetic and respectful way. We hope that you join us in our journey to learn more about how to be neurodiversity-affirming and to spark a change in the way we interact and support neurodivergent individuals.

Speech Pathologists & Occupational Therapists Near Me

Looking for neurodiversity affirming speech pathologists and occupational therapists in Adelaide? Contact us at (08) 8102 4209 or to discuss whether we are a right fit for you and your child.

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