What is autistic masking and how to offer support

Autism masking, also known as camouflaging, refers to the practice of hiding or suppressing autistic traits or behaviours to try and “fit in” better with neurotypical individuals. This can be a coping mechanism for many people with autism who have learned to navigate a world that is not always accommodating to their needs.

Although masking offers its benefits, it can also be incredibly challenging and exhausting. Despite the short-term benefits masking might bring, it can eventually lead to burnout and other negative consequences for the individual.

Here we will explore some of the potential signs of autism masking, and how they may manifest in people who are attempting to mask their autistic traits. We also offer guidance on how you can offer support to someone with autism.

What is Autism Masking?

Masking is somewhat self-explanatory. It means “putting on a mask” or concealing aspects of your personality so no one can see who you are underneath. For people with autism, the mask is often a mask of neurotypicals, meant to hide autistic traits. Other terms are compensating or camouflaging.

Masking can take many forms, including forcing eye contact through pain, faking smiles and other facial emotions, constructing social interaction scripts, disregarding anguish induced by sensory stimuli, and avoiding discussion of special interests on purpose. Masking can be conscious or unconscious.

What are the Signs of Autism Masking?

These are some of the potential signs of autism masking. It is provided so that you can better understand how individuals may hide their autistic traits to navigate social situations and offer them support:

  • Social imitation: People with autism may try to imitate the social behaviour of others to fit in, even if it doesn’t come naturally to them.
  • Forced eye contact: Eye contact can be uncomfortable or overwhelming for some people with autism. Someone who is masking may force themselves to maintain eye contact to appear more socially adept.
  • Scripted language: Autism can cause difficulties with social communication. While masking, some people with autism may use scripted language or repeat phrases they have heard before.
  • Mimicking social cues: Someone who is masking may try to mimic the social cues of those around them, even if they don’t fully understand them. This could include things like smiling when others smile or nodding in agreement even if they don’t fully understand the conversation.
  • Avoiding “autistic” behaviours: People with autism may engage in certain behaviours that are considered “autistic” by others, such as hand flapping or rocking back and forth. Someone who is masking may try to suppress these behaviours to try and fit in better with their neurotypical peers.
  • Burnout: Masking can be exhausting and overwhelming, and can lead to people with autism experiencing burnout or meltdown when they are no longer able to maintain their masking behaviours.

Why Might Someone Mask Their Autism?

It’s important to remember that everyone is unique and will have their own personal reasons for masking their autism.

Some people choose to mask their autistic traits or behaviours as a way to navigate the world around them more successfully. They may want to fit in better with their peers, make friends more easily or simply avoid social stigma and discrimination. Masking can also be a coping mechanism for some individuals, helping them to manage the challenges they face in their daily lives.

Masking can be a difficult and exhausting experience and it’s not always a choice. Some individuals may not even be aware that they are masking, as they may have learned to suppress their traits and behaviours from a very young age.

For others, masking may be a necessary tool for personal safety. Unfortunately, some people with autism have faced bullying or abuse due to their differences. Masking can help to protect them from these negative experiences by making them appear more similar to their neurotypical peers.

Finally, some people with autism may not even be aware that they are masking. They may have learned to hide their traits and behaviours so well that they do not even realise they are doing it. In some cases, this can make it more difficult to receive an accurate diagnosis and appropriate support for their condition.

How To Support Someone With Autism

Ultimately, the decision to mask or not to mask is a personal one. There is no right or wrong answer. It’s important to create an inclusive and accepting environment for all individuals, regardless of their neurodiversity, and to support them in their journey towards self-discovery and acceptance.

Here are some general tips that can help support someone with autism, whether they choose to mask or not:

  • Educate yourself: Take the time to learn more about autism and the unique challenges that people with autism may face. This can help you to better understand their perspective and provide more effective support.
  • Communicate clearly: Individuals with autism may struggle with social communication, so it’s important to communicate clearly and directly. Avoid using metaphors, idioms, or sarcasm, and be patient if they need extra time to process information.
  • Create a predictable environment: Many people with autism thrive in a predictable environment with clear routines and expectations. Try to establish a consistent routine, provide clear instructions and avoid sudden changes whenever possible.
  • Use visual aids: Visual aids, such as picture schedules or social stories, can be helpful for individuals with autism who may struggle with verbal communication. They can provide a clear visual representation of expectations and routines.
  • Respect sensory needs: Some people with autism have unique sensory needs. They may be either over or under-sensitive to certain stimuli. Be respectful of their needs, and avoid overwhelming them with loud noises, strong smells, or bright lights.

Finally, it is so important to be patient and non-judgmental when supporting someone with autism. Avoid making assumptions or stereotypes, and be willing to listen and learn from their perspective. With understanding and support, people with autism can thrive and achieve their full potential.

Specialist Support for Autism

Here at Liaise, we’re proud to support people who live with a range of complex conditions including autism, learning disabilities, physical support requirements and complex behavioural needs.

Everything we do is driven by our values: Positive, Progressive, and Personal support for all. Our continual commitment to delivering high-quality support services ensures the happiness and well-being of all we support.

All of our supported living and residential care homes are run by experienced and highly-skilled staff dedicated to providing safe and therapeutic community-based homes where people with autism can flourish.

We are here to support you and your family. To find out more about our high-quality residential and supported living services, do not hesitate to contact us.