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MASKING MYTHS BUSTED: Autistic Masking = Acting Neurotypical


Autistic masking does not necessarily mean “pretending to be allistic/neurotypical.” Although you’d definitely be forgiven for thinking it does.

Non-autistic researchers have been referring to it as “camouflaging” for years, framing it as an intentional choice to suppress autistic traits and replace them with allistic ones in order to “blend in.” Doing an internet search on the term will return several similar results.

But now, Autistic researchers are in the game, and their take is much more nuanced and comprehensive than that. (Funny how that happens, isn’t it?)

They’ve found that:

  • It can be intentional but is often subconscious and involuntary 

  • It is a protective response to trauma and feeling unsafe 

  • It is often about suppressing more than just autistic traits 

  • It is about identity management and being able to predict how people will treat you, not just “blending in”

While Autistic masking certainly can look like this:

Illustration of a round, yellow, smiling mask that says, “Hey, I’m just like you! Just a regular ol’ allistic person doing definitely not autistic things!”

It can also look like:

Illustrated clown mask that says, “Look at me, the class clown/drama llama/life of the party!!
(Illustrated alien mask that says, “If you thought regular me was weird, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet

Illustrated ninja mask that says, “Please just don’t even notice me"
Illustrated Hellraiser/Pinhead mask that says, “F@CK OFF.”

Some people will lean into being “the bad kid” because they know that’s what people expect of them. Some people will even act “more autistic” because they know that’s what people expect of them. Others still will do things to attract attention in controllable, more “acceptable” ways to avoid attracting attention in unsafe, more stigmatizing ways. Not because they WANT to be that way, but because it lets them predict people’s responses better, which feels safer.

There are Autistic people who can’t “pass” for non-autistic no matter how hard they try. That doesn’t mean they’re not masking. They may actually be working hard to suppress A LOT, they just can’t do everything to neuronormative standards.

None of these people will be accused of “blending in,” yet they are still masking their hearts out. When we assume they are not, we miss all the harm that masking is causing them. But they are suppressing themselves and suffering the consequences of that just as much as any Autistic person whose mask successfully says, “Hey, I’m just like you!”

For more on Autistic masking, see the works of Autistic researchers Dr. Amy Pearson and Kieran Rose.

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