What is camouflaging?

Women and girls with autism are masking their conditions to such a degree that they risk late or missed diagnosis. Masking symptoms of autism may help socially and professionally but may also harm the individuals in the process. (

Why are we masking?

Masking behaviours

Impacts of masking

The Affects of masking

In one sense, camouflaging is adaptive. It is a creative, resourceful response to difficulties (Lai & Szatmari, 2019).

Several quantitative studies show associations between camouflaging and internalising problems: autistic people who camouflage also tend to report higher rates of anxiety and depression (e.g. Cage & Troxell-Whitman, 2019Livingston, Colvert, et al., 2019).

One study found that self-reported camouflaging is associated with higher rates of suicidality (Cassidy, Bradley, Shaw, & Baron-Cohen, 2018).

But the evidence to date suggests that it is associated with exhaustion, stress, anxiety, depression, identity confusion and even suicidality. Thus, it would appear that the attempts that autistic people make to adapt to the non-autistic social world can be deleterious to well-being.

If we view the difficulties of autistic people using this more ecological, context-based approach, we can derive the principle that autism intervention should aim to improve the fit between the individual and their environment. Camouflaging research shows us that attempts to do this only by changing the individual, without modifying the environment, run the risk of being ineffective or, even worse, harmful. Unfortunately, to date, much of the evidence base for autism interventions focuses on interventions that place the onus on autistic individuals to change (Wong et al., 2015). These include a range of treatments that, in various ways, seek to make autistic people act or think differently. In developing the evidence base for supporting autistic people, we need to place greater emphasis on interventions that improve the person-environment fit by modifying the environment, rather than the person (e.g. Mandy et al., 2016).


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