Social Camouflaging in Autism
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by deficits in social communication, repetitive behaviors, and the presence of restricted interests. Many children and adults, in order to fit in with society, hide or shape their personality. This is known as masking or social camouflaging in autism.
In the recent version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V), the disorder is classified as a spectrum. In this way, pervasive developmental disorders from the previous version of the manual were included in one area. It’s good to remember this when addressing any aspect of the disorder, including, of course, social camouflaging in autism.
Characteristics of social camouflaging in autism
According to estimates, 0.76% of the world’s population suffers from autism spectrum disorder. The real percentage varies according to each country, and a better understanding of it has allowed more precise diagnoses that in the past went unnoticed.
Researchers warn that the sex ratio is 3:1 in males and females, so it is much more common in males.
To cope with their day-to-day lives, people with the disorder develop a series of mechanisms or strategies that allow them to adapt to the social world. This is called autistic masking or social camouflaging in autism.
Specialists define it as ‘the process through which they modify their natural social behaviors to adapt to, cope with, or influence a largely neurotypical social world’.
The reason is very simple: many of them experience negative reactions to their natural behavior, and when they interact with non-autistic people.
As a consequence, they naturally create a series of gradual changes to adapt their personality, their attitudes, and their behavior to the accepted social landscape of their environment. Like a chameleon, they blend in with their surroundings to go unnoticed and “survive”.
Despite this, and as the evidence warns, autistic people still experience difficulties when they try to fit in.
Social camouflaging in autism shouldn’t be viewed by parents as a “cure” or “enhancement” of their personality traits, as these traits are still present. In fact, and as we will see shortly, this strategy usually leads to quite a few problems.
We have already established that the disorder is more common in men than in women. However, experts have found that social camouflaging in autism is more prevalent in women.
In fact, the first notions regarding the strategy focused exclusively on autistic women. Women tend to imitate or memorize the accepted social behaviors of others and carry them out them more frequently than men.
Consequences of social camouflaging in autism
Contrary to what might be expected, social camouflaging in autism has more negative than positive consequences. We can divide them into short-term consequences and long-term consequences.
In the first case, the first direct sequel is what is known as autistic burnout. Experts describe the following symptoms as characteristic of this burnout:
- Chronic exhaustion
- Loss of skills
- Reduced tolerance to stimuli
- Increased frustration
- Alterations in mood
Life stressors, the absence of support barriers, and the inability to meet expectations are some of the catalysts for the development of autistic burnout.
All of these are manifested in those who use social camouflaging to fit in with their interpersonal relationships. This type of exhaustion develops both on a physical and mental level.
The long-term consequences of autistic masking are much more acute. A study published in Molecular Autism in 2021 found that social camouflaging is a risk factor for the development of anxiety and depression.
It has also been associated with stress and reduced general psychological well-being. There is evidence that camouflaging experiences are an important suicidal risk factor among the autistic population.
How to recognize social camouflaging?
We have revealed that social camouflaging in autism can have a negative reaction on the physical and mental health of those that suffer from this disorder.
Recognizing the masking signs early can make a notable difference in minimizing its sequelae, as well as being a catalyst for seeking professional support. We’ll leave you with some typical signs that should alert you:
- Constantly imitating and repeating phrases and behavior of others
- Practice behavior alone that they will later use in a social context
- Forcing themselves to have eye contact despite the discomfort this will cause them
- Disguising repetitive actions in such a way that they go unnoticed by others.
- Memorizing a list of questions or answers to avoid long moments of silence when talking to others.
In general, parents, friends, relatives, and all those who are part of the inner circle detect a gradual change in behavior. The affected person makes an effort to belong and be included, and as these traits don’t conform to what is traditionally considered to be normal, this effort is perceived as exaggerated, superficial, or unnatural.
As we have already warned, psychology professionals can address the problem when it’s detected, so you must be open to going to see them.It might interest you...