'Masking' is where we try to hide being autistic, so others will accept us. To do this we act in ways other people will like or think are "normal" and "socially acceptable".

Masking is also called "passing" or "camouflaging".

We autistic people can act differently from non-autistic people. As a result, we can be seen as strange. This can lead to bullying and harassment as people can act unpleasantly to people they don't understand.

When in a customer-facing job we may act friendly and happy, so the customer can feel welcomed and valued. The same when we are with our friends to show them we care. This effort varies depending on how we feel and what we're doing. With friends, this may only be small as we're interested in them even if not on the topic of conversation.

Everyone masks and this includes both autistic and non-autistic people. If you are autistic, masking is more effort, it can be physically draining and cause anxiety and depression.

Sometimes this is called "Social Burnout".

What does it mean for autistic people?

Sometimes we don't realise we are masking as these roles can feel natural and happen automatically and without thought.

Other times it may be a lot harder and require a lot of concentration. We may have to consciously use body language, vocal tone and facial expressions as well as show interest.

Some examples of 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

Doing these things take a lot of effort when you are autistic.

Masking and diagnoses rates

Because of masking, you may never notice someone is autistic. I feel this is one reason why some people may never get diagnosed, or only in adulthood. It could also explain why fewer women and girls get diagnosed as they tend to demonstrate 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.

Research is still needed to understand why more males get diagnosed with autism than females. Masking may be one reason. If so this could mean there are many undiagnosed adults who may need help. It's my hope that if everyone understands masking then more of us may realise we're autistic and in doing so lead more fulfilling lives.

Loren Snow is the creator of Autism Academy, which makes short animated videos explaining different things about being autistic to make understanding autism fun. Loren will give a talk entitled ‘Navigating the Neurotypical World’ at Celebrating Autism, a new event being held by Milestones Trust, at The Vassall Centre in Bristol from 11.30am until 5pm today (March 28th). More information is available here.