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  • Barbara Ledezma

Camouflaging in Girls & Women on the Autism Spectrum



What is Camouflaging?

Social camouflaging involves using strategies to blend into and adapt to social situations to fit in with the social group. It may involve presenting themselves differently by acting, talking, and carrying themselves in a certain way. Autistic women use camouflaging as a way to hide or suppress autistic traits and fit in socially.


Camouflaging In Women

Camouflaging is a common strategy people with autism use; however, it is extremely common in women with autism, which can help explain why many girls go undiagnosed. Research has found many different reasons for why women with autism camouflage, for example, societal expectations, peer influence, greater pressure to fit in and wanting to form connections with others.


3 Categories of Camouflaging

There are three categories of camouflaging.

1. Masking

2. Compensation

3. Assimilation


Masking involves using a variety of strategies to minimize certain autistic traits and social difficulties. Examples are adjusting their face and body language to appear confident and engaged, forcing eye contact and smiles.


Compensation are strategies for compensating for difficulties in social situations. Examples are learning social scripts, mimicking body language and facial expressions, and learning social cues from books or movies.


Assimilation are strategies employed to help fit in during social interactions or social settings. Examples are feeling like you're putting on an "act" or a "performance", imitating the mannerisms or personality of another in a social setting, and forcing conversation.


Research in Camouflaging in Women with Autism

Many studies have found the existence of camouflaging in individuals with autism, especially the prevalence of this strategy in women and young girls with autism. One study found that young girls had a strong desire and motivation to form friendships with others causing them to use camouflaging and masking strategies to fit in better (Tierney et al., 2016). Further, the experience of rejection or bullying added to this sense of pressure to maintain friendships with camouflaging being a protective element.


Another study found that peer groups play an important role in camouflaging for girls with autism, with their peer helping to decipher what behaviours are appropriate and peer rejection shaping what behaviours are inappropriate (Kreiser & White, 2014).


Consequences of Camouflaging

Camouflaging can result in poor mental health such as, stress, burnout, exhaustion, anxiety, and depression. Further, it can be a risk factor for suicide in adults with autism and can have a negative impact on identity.


Sources

Beck, Lundwall, R. A., Gabrielsen, T., Cox, J. C., & South, M. (2020). Looking good but feeling bad: “Camouflaging” behaviors and mental health in women with autistic traits. Autism : the International Journal of Research and Practice, 24(4), 809–821. https://doi.org/10.1177/1362361320912147


Cage, & Troxell-Whitman, Z. (2019). Understanding the Reasons, Contexts and Costs of Camouflaging for Autistic Adults. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 49(5), 1899–1911. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-018-03878-x


Engelbrecht., Silvertant, E. (2023). Consequences of autistic camouflaging. Embrace Autism. https://embrace-autism.com/consequences-of-autistic-camouflaging/#Benefits_motivations


Hull, L., Petrides, K.V. & Mandy, W. The Female Autism Phenotype and Camouflaging: a Narrative Review. Rev J Autism Dev Disord 7, 306–317 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40489-020-00197-9


Kreiser, & White, S. W. (2014). ASD in Females: Are We Overstating the Gender Difference in Diagnosis? Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review, 17(1), 67–84. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10567-013-0148-9


Silvertant, E. (2020). Autism & camouflaging. Embrace Autism. https://embrace-autism.com/autism-and-camouflaging/#Camouflaging


Tierney, Burns, J., & Kilbey, E. (2016). Looking behind the mask: Social coping strategies of girls on the autistic spectrum. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 23, 73–83. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.rasd.2015.11.013


Author: Barbara Ledezma, Undergraduate Student Volunteer

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