A Conceptual Analysis of Autistic Masking

Abstract

Autistic masking is an emerging research area that focuses on understanding the conscious or unconscious suppression of natural autistic responses and adoption of alternatives across a range of domains. It is suggested that masking may relate to negative outcomes for autistic people, including late/missed diagnosis, mental health issues, burnout, and suicidality. This makes it essential to understand what masking is, and why it occurs. In this conceptual analysis, we suggest that masking is an unsurprising response to the deficit narrative and accompanying stigma that has developed around autism. We outline how classical social theory (i.e., social identity theory) can help us to understand how and why people mask by situating masking in the social context in which it develops. We draw upon the literature on stigma and marginalization to examine how masking might intersect with different aspects of identity (e.g., gender). We argue that although masking might contribute toward disparities in diagnosis, it is important that we do not impose gender norms and stereotypes by associating masking with a “female autism phenotype.” Finally we provide recommendations for future research, stressing the need for increased understanding of the different ways that autism may present in different people (e.g., internalizing and externalizing) and intersectionality. We suggest that masking is examined through a sociodevelopmental lens, taking into account factors that contribute toward the initial development of the mask and that drive its maintenance.

https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/full/10.1089/aut.2020.0043

Comments

  • BenderBender Citizen
    Thanks for posting this, it's a good read and the subject doesn't get enough attention IMO.
  • firemonkeyfiremonkey Citizen
    edited May 1
    I'd never thought of not talking about your special interests as much as you'd like to, or making eye contact when you don't like to, as masking.
  • AmityAmity Administrator, Citizen
    I found the idea that masking isnt a conscious choice refreshing, I often sense a feeling like guilt for not being the real me 24/7.

    Recently I was speaking with a group about disability and the othering phenomenon, I intuited some resistance to the approach I was advocating, I cant say exactly what it was obviously, but found myself reflecting on the role masking was playing in undermining the authenticity of my words.

    At the same time I wondered if I would be othered and my perspective undermined if I wasnt masking...

    There is a lot of good content in this article, the journal in general also, I will take time to process it.

  • Teach51Teach51 Citizen
    edited May 1
    Thank you firemonkey for this!

    My aspie friend/lover masks so well that he was a  champion in a certain sport in his youth and later an officer in an elite unit in the IDF and his parents never even thought of ASD. Actually it was in the army during combat when friends were killed before his eyes that he had his first major meltdown and consequently PTSD. He claims he masks perfectly now but he doesn't. I am assuming that because he is extremely astute he learned to adapt and match his responses with those of others  The effort is exhausting and he says he is "himself" only when he is alone. When we are together he often forgets to mask and that makes me very happy because I like his natural self. His stimming was always rather a "regular" movement, flexing one leg repeatedly which I suppose also just seemed as though he had cramp as he was an athlete. When he is tired or triggered he stops masking but he has learned to camouflage this to a certain extent because he is aware of  seeming very odd I suppose to someone who doesn't know him. As he gets older it is becoming more and more exhausting to mask (he is much younger than I) is that a usual thing for masking to become more difficult with age? I will read this article in depth, it may be useful for another ASD friend who is newly diagnosed with ASD at the age of 28.
  • verityverity Administrator, Citizen
    I think masking an an extending basis is harmful.

    It was for me.

    I always advocate adaptation over emulation.

    However in certain context that you can go in or out of or are non-permanent it is ok to apply the knowledge you have to communicate/interact effectively.  

    However you can only do this if you have arranged you life in such a way. This is presuming you even want to or it meets you goals.

  • HylianHylian Citizen, Mentor
    Teach51 said:
    As he gets older it is becoming more and more exhausting to mask (he is much younger than I) is that a usual thing for masking to become more difficult with age? I will read this article in depth, it may be useful for another ASD friend who is newly diagnosed with ASD at the age of 28.
    It can be common for masking to get harder, but I think it's because, like he said, you can't really "be yourself" while masking, and eventually that's going to wear someone down.

    I've always thought about masking like I am method acting the part of an NT, and if someone were to act a part every time they interacted with other people (or even when they're alone, as some people with ASD end up doing since they "become" their mask after doing it for so long), for years and years they'd eventually become extremely burnt out, and possibly start to suffer identity + emotional issues.

    That's what happened to me when I experienced the burnout that made it fully click that I am autistic. I masked enough that I just came off as "weird" to everyone, and suppressed even stimming by myself until around 17 or so. I became so exhausted from it that it threw me into the worst burnout that I've had yet and I found it impossible to mask. I actually still haven't fully regained my ability to mask, and I honestly don't want to since I don't want to experience that again.
  • Teach51Teach51 Citizen
    edited May 1
     This article has really got me thinking. I had a very useful exchange with Karamazov on another forum about communication difficulties that I was having with my "friend." What is difficult/impossible? for him to mask is appropriate verbal responses especially when texting and he used to hurt my feelings frequently by using phrases from movies, dare I say it she whispers, porn, or lines from comedy shows or idioms that were completely out of context, and we argued constantly because my identification of verbal abuse is impaired and I am very hyper vigilant. Body language is not a problem for him to emulate but when he called me a silly goose or worse (much much worse) in the middle of a sentence I was very offended. I learned that he memorizes phrases like templates and interjects them when he feels they are appropriate and very often, when texting, they are not. In person this problem does not exist at all in fact he can be very sensitive and expressive.  My newly diagnosed friend does not mask at all and truthfully finds life much harder from a social aspect. 

     I sincerely hope that I am not being inappropriate or offensive myself for speaking about my friends with ASD, I am the "other" here in a sense, but I have an autistic grandson, lover and friends and understanding autism through the personal experiences of friends here helps my understanding  enormously.
  • HylianHylian Citizen, Mentor
    Teach51 said:
     This article has really got me thinking. I had a very useful exchange with Karamazov on another forum about communication difficulties that I was having with my "friend." What is difficult/impossible? for him to mask is appropriate verbal responses especially when texting and he used to hurt my feelings frequently by using phrases from movies, dare I say it she whispers, porn, or lines from comedy shows or idioms that were completely out of context, and we argued constantly because my identification of verbal abuse is impaired and I am very hyper vigilant. Body language was not a problem for him to emulate but when he called me a silly goose or worse (much much worse) in the middle of a sentence I was very offended. I learned that he memorizes phrases like templates and interjects them when he feels they are appropriate and very often, when texting they are not. In person this problem does not exist at all. My newly diagnosed friend does not mask at all and truthfully finds life much harder from a social aspect. 

     I sincerely hope that I am not being inappropriate or offensive myself for speaking about my friends with ASD, I am the "other" here in a sense, but I have an autistic grandson, lover and friends and understanding autism through the personal experiences of friends here helps my understanding  enormously.
    I don't think this is offensive at all. I actually do things like that too, and sometimes I don't realize how annoying or upsetting it can be to other people. A lot of my IRL communication is me basically recycling phrases I've heard, so I use a lot of references that people don't get or think are appropriate, and that sometimes don't fit in the current context (even if I genuinely thought they do).

    It's interesting to see someone without ASD talk about that behaviour. I don't think I fully get why people dislike me doing that since people don't explain it to me beyond telling me it's annoying and out of context, so seeing someone actually explain how and why it appears to them a certain way is useful.
  • Teach51Teach51 Citizen
    edited May 1
    I am so glad, it is then mutually beneficial for us. Karamazov actually salvaged my relationship at the time by explaining what might be the problem. That was 2 years ago I believe.🙂
  • Teach51Teach51 Citizen
    edited May 1
    Hylian said:
    Teach51 said:
    As he gets older it is becoming more and more exhausting to mask (he is much younger than I) is that a usual thing for masking to become more difficult with age? I will read this article in depth, it may be useful for another ASD friend who is newly diagnosed with ASD at the age of 28.
    It can be common for masking to get harder, but I think it's because, like he said, you can't really "be yourself" while masking, and eventually that's going to wear someone down.

    I've always thought about masking like I am method acting the part of an NT, and if someone were to act a part every time they interacted with other people (or even when they're alone, as some people with ASD end up doing since they "become" their mask after doing it for so long), for years and years they'd eventually become extremely burnt out, and possibly start to suffer identity + emotional issues.

    That's what happened to me when I experienced the burnout that made it fully click that I am autistic. I masked enough that I just came off as "weird" to everyone, and suppressed even stimming by myself until around 17 or so. I became so exhausted from it that it threw me into the worst burnout that I've had yet and I found it impossible to mask. I actually still haven't fully regained my ability to mask, and I honestly don't want to since I don't want to experience that again.

    It's a Catch 22 isn't it in a way. If you mask you eventually suffer burnout and if you don't the social struggles are devastating. I wish there were ASD communities in my country. My lover has fairly good social skills when not tired but another friend would really benefit from meeting others who view the world in a similar way. I can't imagine how difficult it must be to have to pretend to be someone else on a daily basis. My lover left a good job in cyber security because it was just too much.
    Truthfully one of the first things my lover said to me was that he is HFA and says absolutely everything that comes into his head. This is true lol. I liked him immediately because I love people who are up front and I have autistic friends and ex students so I felt completely at home. I have a very open and direct way of communicating so I guess there is no necessity to mask with me most of the time.
  • BenderBender Citizen
    verity said:
    I think masking an an extending basis is harmful.

    It was for me.

    I always advocate adaptation over emulation.


    This has been precisely my experience too.

    However in certain context that you can go in or out of or are non-permanent it is ok to apply the knowledge you have to communicate/interact effectively.  

    However you can only do this if you have arranged you life in such a way. This is presuming you even want to or it meets you goals.

    It can still get messy sometimes. I found I "switch" my brain between certain situations to determine if or how much I mask in a very similar way to how I switch to think in another language in order to speak it without translating in my head.
  • BenderBender Citizen
    Hylian said:
    Teach51 said:
     This article has really got me thinking. I had a very useful exchange with Karamazov on another forum about communication difficulties that I was having with my "friend." What is difficult/impossible? for him to mask is appropriate verbal responses especially when texting and he used to hurt my feelings frequently by using phrases from movies, dare I say it she whispers, porn, or lines from comedy shows or idioms that were completely out of context, and we argued constantly because my identification of verbal abuse is impaired and I am very hyper vigilant. Body language was not a problem for him to emulate but when he called me a silly goose or worse (much much worse) in the middle of a sentence I was very offended. I learned that he memorizes phrases like templates and interjects them when he feels they are appropriate and very often, when texting they are not. In person this problem does not exist at all. My newly diagnosed friend does not mask at all and truthfully finds life much harder from a social aspect. 

     I sincerely hope that I am not being inappropriate or offensive myself for speaking about my friends with ASD, I am the "other" here in a sense, but I have an autistic grandson, lover and friends and understanding autism through the personal experiences of friends here helps my understanding  enormously.
    I don't think this is offensive at all. I actually do things like that too, and sometimes I don't realize how annoying or upsetting it can be to other people. A lot of my IRL communication is me basically recycling phrases I've heard, so I use a lot of references that people don't get or think are appropriate, and that sometimes don't fit in the current context (even if I genuinely thought they do).


    Yes, I do this too. Due probably to being older, now I only do it with certain people as an "inside joke", as we watched the same movies and have the same references. It actually works as a bonding mechanism. NTs do this kind of thing too, and it creates a connection when someone gets an obscure reference, but they usually know when it's appropriate to do it or not.

    It's interesting to see someone without ASD talk about that behaviour. I don't think I fully get why people dislike me doing that since people don't explain it to me beyond telling me it's annoying and out of context, so seeing someone actually explain how and why it appears to them a certain way is useful.

    Agreed. And that's exactly the problem: most people won't tell you why you annoy or even anger them and some don't even fully understand the reasons themselves, it's just a vague feeling that something is off or out of place. But getting an "it's just how it is" type of answer can be very confusing and maddening for someone on the spectrum.

    Having these kinds of exchanges with very close non-autistic people that cared enough to both take the time to analyze their own feelings and reactions and to explain them to me, along with the huge role circumstances play in what is appropriate and when has been incredibly helpful to me.

    When I was very young, I often thought that people had random irrational reactions, in a completely inconsistent and sometimes absurd way. These days I understand such things much better, even if understanding doesn't necessarily mean agreeing with some things.

    People here already know I'm not a "separationist" and I strongly believe that the way to go is to encourage benevolent people on both sides to contribute to building a bridge between us and NTs or allistic people. I'm actually very grateful to those who actively participate this way. 
  • HylianHylian Citizen, Mentor
    Bender said:
    Hylian said:
    Teach51 said:
     This article has really got me thinking. I had a very useful exchange with Karamazov on another forum about communication difficulties that I was having with my "friend." What is difficult/impossible? for him to mask is appropriate verbal responses especially when texting and he used to hurt my feelings frequently by using phrases from movies, dare I say it she whispers, porn, or lines from comedy shows or idioms that were completely out of context, and we argued constantly because my identification of verbal abuse is impaired and I am very hyper vigilant. Body language was not a problem for him to emulate but when he called me a silly goose or worse (much much worse) in the middle of a sentence I was very offended. I learned that he memorizes phrases like templates and interjects them when he feels they are appropriate and very often, when texting they are not. In person this problem does not exist at all. My newly diagnosed friend does not mask at all and truthfully finds life much harder from a social aspect. 

     I sincerely hope that I am not being inappropriate or offensive myself for speaking about my friends with ASD, I am the "other" here in a sense, but I have an autistic grandson, lover and friends and understanding autism through the personal experiences of friends here helps my understanding  enormously.
    I don't think this is offensive at all. I actually do things like that too, and sometimes I don't realize how annoying or upsetting it can be to other people. A lot of my IRL communication is me basically recycling phrases I've heard, so I use a lot of references that people don't get or think are appropriate, and that sometimes don't fit in the current context (even if I genuinely thought they do).


    Yes, I do this too. Due probably to being older, now I only do it with certain people as an "inside joke", as we watched the same movies and have the same references. It actually works as a bonding mechanism. NTs do this kind of thing too, and it creates a connection when someone gets an obscure reference, but they usually know when it's appropriate to do it or not.

    It's interesting to see someone without ASD talk about that behaviour. I don't think I fully get why people dislike me doing that since people don't explain it to me beyond telling me it's annoying and out of context, so seeing someone actually explain how and why it appears to them a certain way is useful.

    Agreed. And that's exactly the problem: most people won't tell you why you annoy or even anger them and some don't even fully understand the reasons themselves, it's just a vague feeling that something is off or out of place. But getting an "it's just how it is" type of answer can be very confusing and maddening for someone on the spectrum.

    Having these kinds of exchanges with very close non-autistic people that cared enough to both take the time to analyze their own feelings and reactions and to explain them to me, along with the huge role circumstances play in what is appropriate and when has been incredibly helpful to me.

    When I was very young, I often thought that people had random irrational reactions, in a completely inconsistent and sometimes absurd way. These days I understand such things much better, even if understanding doesn't necessarily mean agreeing with some things.

    People here already know I'm not a "separationist" and I strongly believe that the way to go is to encourage benevolent people on both sides to contribute to building a bridge between us and NTs or allistic people. I'm actually very grateful to those who actively participate this way. 
    (Posted this on the wrong account so I'm reposting it here. lol)

    People not explaining why I've annoyed/upset them drives me up the wall, especially because asking them to explain makes them act like I'm pretending to be "dumb". It's very insulting and not helpful.

    I wish people would take what others say at face value and explain things when they're asked to, instead of getting offended or thinking someone is stupid. I think it'd be helpful for NTs too if people communicated like that.
  • Teach51Teach51 Citizen
    I am glad that you clarified that, that is very helpful Hylian. Frequently my friend, after I have explained how a text made me feel, will elaborate when we meet what exactly he intended and not what I interpreted. I now know that he invests great effort in trying to understand, according to his lengthy ruminations and the fact that he bothers to get back to me when we actually meet face to face and explain his point of view and intention at the time. My CPTSD and his autism have been a challenge for us both but we have been together for 5 years now and I am so fond of him.
    I try not to embellish my texts with emotional accusations or feelings and tell him factually, in templates the cause and effect of what he said and the emotion it awakened in me and why. It is a different "emotional language" that we are figuring out. From thinking initially that he lacks compassion, I now know that he is extremely compassionate, more than average, he just needs to crack the code of what I am expressing. 
  • BenderBender Citizen
    Hylian said:

    People not explaining why I've annoyed/upset them drives me up the wall, especially because asking them to explain makes them act like I'm pretending to be "dumb". It's very insulting and not helpful.

    Yeah, me too. I've also been under fire due to people assuming I'm pretending not to understand something they considered obvious. Sometimes people really can't process that you can be articulate, intelligent, and competent in some ways and completely clueless in others *bangs head on wall*.

    I wish people would take what others say at face value and explain things when they're asked to, instead of getting offended or thinking someone is stupid. I think it'd be helpful for NTs too if people communicated like that.

    You and me both. Unfortunately, there are a lot of factors at play (conditioning, personality, emotions, personal experiences, etc) that can make human beings and human interactions very complicated. 
  • BenderBender Citizen
    Teach51 said:

    I try not to embellish my texts with emotional accusations or feelings and tell him factually, in templates the cause and effect of what he said and the emotion it awakened in me and why. It is a different "emotional language" that we are figuring out. From thinking initially that he lacks compassion, I now know that he is extremely compassionate, more than average, he just needs to crack the code of what I am expressing. 
    This is actually the perfect way to deal with it 👍

    Emotional Logic is a structured way to understand the useful purposes of emotions and the ability to turn unpleasant emotions into positive action whilst limiting distress and confusion. This life-long learning method leads to emotional strength and resilience in the face of life's challenges. In turn, this gives the foundation for positive character development.

  • Teach51Teach51 Citizen
    I sense that many NT men learn to mask in a sense because many women expect men to think and behave as women do, and men are quite perplexed trying not to mess things up because they often are more practical and less emotional than allistic women. I like the direct honesty of autistic men that is truthful and transparent, saying what they actually think and not hiding their thoughts because the woman can't deal with it. Many NT men are not truthful with women because many women can't deal with the way men are programmed.
  • Mona_PerethMona_Pereth Citizen
    I'd never thought of not talking about your special interests as much as you'd like to, or making eye contact when you don't like to, as masking.

    I consider the latter to be masking, but not the former.

    To me a crucial question is whether a given behavior would be acceptable or expected in a world where we were not under any pressure to act NT.

    For example, in a more autistic-friendly world, info-dumping would be more socially accepted, but still it would be accepted only when talking to people who are interested in the topic in question, and only when they are in the mood to listen.  In an autistic-friendly world, people would also be expected to be more assertive about what kinds of things they are in the mood to listen to and when, rather than expecting the speaker to guess correctly.

    As for eye contact, in a more autistic-friendly world, everyone would understand that not everyone can comfortably do mainstream Western-style NT eye contact rhythms, and there would be no pressure to do so.

  • Mona_PerethMona_Pereth Citizen
    Bender said:
    Hylian said:

    People not explaining why I've annoyed/upset them drives me up the wall, especially because asking them to explain makes them act like I'm pretending to be "dumb". It's very insulting and not helpful.

    Yeah, me too. I've also been under fire due to people assuming I'm pretending not to understand something they considered obvious. Sometimes people really can't process that you can be articulate, intelligent, and competent in some ways and completely clueless in others *bangs head on wall*.

    Yep, this is a big problem, especially in a culturally homogeneous milieu.

    In a more autistic-friendly world, there would be a lot less expectation of mind-reading.  Instead, people would be expected to develop autistic-friendly variants of the skills of assertiveness and active listening.
Sign In or Register to comment.