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Image by Izzy Park

What is "masking?"

"Masking" or "camouflaging" refers to adopting certain behaviors to better assimilate into one's social environment. All human beings can "mask" and often do it unconsciously. However, it can become a social survival technique amongst the autistic population, especially females.


Because autistic social customs and sensory experiences differ from those of neurotypicals, masking can become very entrenched in everyday life, leading to health problems and harming overall well-being  (Bradley et al., 2021). For autistic individuals, "masking" can be mentally exhausting as it involves suppressing natural behaviors and constantly imitating neurotypical behavior (BURNOUT!). As a minority group, autistic people feel more pressure to mask within a world not set up for neurodivergence. Chronic masking also prevents autistic people from developing their sense of self and can lead to difficulty with self-advocacy, often leading to unsafe situations.


Due to the stigma toward autism (i.e., association with low intelligence, rudeness, or lack of empathy) and even unconscious bias, autistic people are also more vulnerable to producing this behavior in multiple (if not all) settings of daily life (i.e., work, school).  


While the use of masking can be a safety technique until society is safer for autistic people, neurotypical and allistic allies can help by:

  • acknowledging authentic autistic peers' behaviors as valid

  • accepting autistic experiences as different than their own, and not requiring a change

  • encouraging self-advocacy (i.e., saying no)

  • treating autistic people's decisions respectfully (even if there is disagreement)

  • examine your own social customs and do self-reflection (i.e. examine your own implicit biases* - scroll down and select "I wish to proceed" after reading policy then select "Disability IAT")

  • aid in filtering the use of social techniques for safety


For more in-depth information about the impact of masking on autistic people, check out Dr. Hannah Belcher's article featured by the National Autistic Society here.


*Noted Harvard's implicit bias quiz is not appropriate for people with attention processing differences due to the nature of item selection and is most effective for neurotypical folks, in general

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