What is Social Masking and why it may explain misdiagnosis and burnout?
What is Social Masking?
Social Masking is where an autistic person acts in ways others might consider “normal” in order to be accepted by them. It can also be referred to as passing or camouflaging.
What can it look like?
Basically anything that we do to appear normal. So sometimes we don’t realise we are masking as the roles we are acting or fitting into can feel natural and happen automatically and without thought. Other times it may be a lot harder and require a lot of concentration. We can have to consciously use body language, vocal tone and facial expressions as well as show interest.
Some examples of masking behaviours:
Some examples of social masking behaviours are:
- maintaining eye contact
- trying to stay still
- copying others behaviour
- forcing ourselves to use facial expressions and smile
- learning conversation topics others might be interested in
- practising how to act before we go to an event
- being agreeable
Doing these things can take a lot of effort and time, so it’s understandable why we may feel drained or socially burnt out.
What does “Social Burnout” mean?
Everyone socially masks and this includes both autistic and non-autistic people. If you are autistic social masking is more effort, it can be physically draining and this can cause you to become fatigued, spacey, and drained. Sometimes this is called “Social Burnout”.
How does masking explain misdiagnosis?
Because of social masking, you may never notice someone is autistic. This is why some people may never get diagnosed or only in adulthood. It could also explain why fewer girls get diagnosed, as they usually have more masking behaviours and so may not seem autistic. This could lead them to get another diagnosis or fail to be diagnosed at all. Some people may not even know they are autistic. They may think their challenges are because they are tired or hungry. This can lead to them blaming themselves and continuing to do things that are bad for them. Others don’t get socially burnt out as easily and some don’t when around routine people like their parents or partner.