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"Putting on my best normal" - Hull et al., 2017

Masking (also known as 'camouflaging' or 'shielding') is when an Autistic person 'puts on a mask' to hide their authentic self. When an Autistic person masks they suppress and hide their Autistic traits which society has stigmatised e.g. how an Autistic person moves their body, how they speak, the words they use, what they wear, what their interests are, and so on. Masking is a trauma response and a way for the Autistic person to self-protect. Masking can delay an Autism diagnosis and lead to misdiagnosis. Many Autistic people have been conditioned to feel like they have to mask due to repeated past experiences of trauma caused by bullying and social rejection, and have been made to feel that they must supress their authentic self in order to be socially accepted.

Examples of masking:

A person is holding up a piece of paper with a smile drawn on it, in front of their mouth
  • Copying people's facial expressions​
  • Forcing eye-contact
  • Mimicking people's behaviour
  • Learning social scripts​
  • Imitating gestures
  • Hiding your authentic self
  • Hypervigilance 
  • Monitoring yourself in social interactions
  • Hiding your distress
  • People-pleasing
  • Preparing jokes, rehearsing them
  • Practising conversations
  • Suppressing stimming, echolalia
  • Spending time planning topics, questions in advance

Impact of masking

  • Burnout
  • Exhaustion
  • Sensory overload (meltdowns)
  • Self-injury / self-harm
  • Social isolation / exclusion
  • Unemployment
  • Poor self-esteem
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Suicide

"But everybody masks. I'm neurotypical and I mask too. It's the same" 

Nope. It's not the same. There's a huge difference between Autistic masking and neurotypical masking. Almost everyone masks to some extent. For example, a neurotypical person may adapt their behaviour, body language, and communication style in certain situations and contexts e.g. in the workplace whereby they will act more polite, 'professional' and more sociable. However, this is not costly to their mental, emotional, physical, and sensory health. Autistic people mask as a survival strategy in order to avoid being ostracised for coming across as "weird, odd", or being made fun of due to years of social exclusion. Autistic masking involves scrutinising every interaction and being hyper aware of every facial expression or gesture. Neurotypicals (generally) do not experience this. Masking comes at a huge cost due to the labour that goes into it.
A dark skinned boy with black hair is covering his face with his hands and blue t-shirt

Why do Autistic people mask?

To survive

To self-protect

To avoid being bullied

To avoid criticism and correction

Masking predicts suicidality

Autistic adults who mask have high rates of anxiety and co-occurring mental health problems [1]. In Autistic adults, masking significantly predicts suicidality [2]. Autistic people feel obliged to pretend that they're not Autistic, particularly Autistic people who would traditionally be labelled as 'high-functioning'. This is why functioning labels are misleading and harmful. Being called high-functioning is not a compliment as it invalidates and dismisses the person's difficulties. In "A Conceptual Analysis of Autistic Masking" by Amy Pearson and Kieran Rose (2021), they conclude:
  • Masking is a "response to the deficit narrative and accompanying stigma that has developed around autism". 

  • Masking shouldn't be associated with a "female autism phenotype"

  • Masking takes significant energy and is only sustainable for short periods.


  • A Conceptual Analysis of Autistic Masking: Understanding the Narrative of Stigma and the Illusion of Choice. Amy Pearson and Kieran Rose.Autism in Adulthood.Mar 2021.52-60

  • [1] Cage, E., & 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. Link

  • [2] Cassidy, S., Bradley, L., Shaw, R. et al. Risk markers for suicidality in autistic adults. Molecular Autism 9, 42 (2018). Link

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