Masking is very common autistic trait. Masking is where a person will supress ‘autistic’ behaviours and mimic neurotypical behaviours. It is a survival strategy to fit in.
Everyone, autistic or not, engages in masking of some sort. For example if you are anxious about a job interview, you may behave in a more professional but less natural way to get through it. For autistic people, masking is far more intense and it’s nearly constant. An autistic person may mask every time they are in a social situation or at school, while a non-autistic person only does it some of the time.
Masking starts early
From a very young age some autistic children will realise if they mask they:
- Fit in better with other children
- They get in less trouble with parents / teachers / carers
This effectively teaches them that if they behave in the same way as those around them life outside the home is easier.
Autistic people will mask to go unnoticed, to please others, to make friends and fit in. Whilst masking may be more common in women and girls many boys do mask.
Masking at School
It is very common for autistic students to mask at school. A student who is masking is likely to be well behaved in class and seem to those around them that they are ok. However we tend to find that a student who masks at school will have more explosive behaviours at home, this is why communication between home and school is so important.
If a child has sensory processing differences (such as noise and touch sensitivity) they will be experiencing discomfort throughout the school day. Some children will mask this discomfort and be able to supress it whilst in social situations. However once that child gets home (their safe space) they will often release the stress of that discomfort and parents will be reporting challenging distressed behaviours at home.
How to Support Masking
One of the key features of masking is that it covers up a lack of knowledge of oneself – if I don’t know who I am, I can pretend I do by becoming someone else. Boost their self-esteem. Self-esteem is made up of a person’s view of their own self-worth, value and their place in the world alongside their beliefs and perceptions about how others see them. Helping your child understand themselves – what they like, what they don’t like, what makes them tick – is very important.
- Help them to work out what they like – tastes, scents, places, people, activities
- Help them work out what they don’t like as well
- Help them see where in life they do fit in
- Discuss their beliefs – about the world, people around them, right and wrong
- Take a special interest in their interests – encourage and support them.
- Talk about strengths and skills
Talk openly about autism, what it is and what it means. Ensure that they are not harbouring a lot of negativity about it because of hearing the wrong thing from someone else.
More on Masking:
Find out more about Social Masking in our post here.
You can print out our ‘What is Masking’ handout here.
- Masking & Identity – Autism Central
- Autistic Masking & Unmasking – Purple Ella
- Masking in autism: the ‘why’ matters
- Short video from the recent documentary Inside our Autistic Minds with Flo describing her experience of masking – Flo’s video
- Autism and Masking: How and Why People Do It, and the Impact it can have – book