What is masking?
Masking is a social coping strategy that involves hiding behaviors of a disability like autism in order to manage social situations and fit in with others; masking can include actions like suppressing stimming behaviors, such as flapping of hands. In addition to hiding behaviors of autism, individuals who mask may also mimic facial expressions and gestures to display context-appropriate expressions and gestures, make intentional eye contact, and give scripted responses to questions.
Dr. Stutman tells us that society often encourages masking with girls more than with boys. It typically begins as girls grow up and start school, where they’re faced with social and cultural pressures, expectations, and gender rules and norms. Girls mask more often at school and in public where there is pressure to fit in; there is usually less camouflaging at home. Some reasons why a girl might mask include to avoid bullying or humiliation, to overcome challenges in making friends and maintaining friendships, and to camouflage immature interests or learning challenges.
Dr. Gupta tells us, “Because of expectations of cultural gender roles, girls try to mask their social challenges. While symptoms may seem less obvious, they may be exhausted internally trying to continually fit in and understand social situations. They may seem less impaired, but that doesn't mean they don't need support.”
Another form of camouflaging is called compensation, which occurs when a person uses alternative cognitive strategies to overcome challenges related to their autism. For example, individuals with autism can compensate by intellectualizing social interactions that would be intuitive for others. They learn social rules intellectually, perhaps by observing and mimicking, rather than instinctively.
To learn more, see our article Autism in Girls.