Updated: Jul 9
By Sadaf Salehzada
Reading time 5 minutes ⏰
As autism is often misunderstood by most people and those with autism face many social pressures, many autistic people do what is known as “masking” or camouflaging”. Autism has been documented manifesting differently in women and girls than in men. There are many explanations for this, including different symptoms that are more common in one sex than the other, as well as how we are taught to understand autism. One of the reasons that this rift occurs may be because of how women with autism mask their symptoms.
Masking is a behaviour that many people with autism do, it is defined as hiding symptoms of autism from those around them by blending in and mimicking their peers. There are many reasons that people—specifically women—mask their symptoms of autism.
Many people believe that the reason many women are diagnosed with autism later is because of their masking behaviours. Certain behaviours that may not be deemed socially acceptable, such as …may be pushed aside, whereas autistic people may try and copy socially acceptable behaviours from their peers. Some of these hidden behaviours may include hiding their preferred stimming behaviours and hiding overstimulation.
There have been studies done as well where masking has been connected to the “female phenotype of autism” (of course this does not mean that men do not mask, just not at the same level). This is because some women with autism have been found to have more of a grasp of social situations.
Masking is not always a conscious behaviour either, it may develop after certain negative experiences or it may occur without any prior knowledge, because of this masking may negatively impact someone’s identity and mental health. An autistic person who masks may feel that their symptoms are not even real if they are able to hide them. Unfortunately, masking behaviours have been connected to negative outcomes such as low self-esteem, stress, and negative mental health.
Now that we have looked over masking, why it’s done and how it can affect autistic women you may be asking what are different masking behaviours? There are quite a few, such as: rehearsing conversations before they happen, practising facial expressions in their spare time, forcing eye contact during conversations, as well as mirroring people they are talking too.
Masking in women with autism is an explanation as to why women are diagnosed with autism later in life than men. Knowing this fact, it is important to raise awareness about masking. Many people say that they mask due to social pressures and fear of being ridiculed. By changing social stigmas around autism and symptoms of autism we can help a large portion of women and girls with being able to live their lives with their symptoms instead of hiding.