Autistic people may camouflage their innate autistic social behaviours to adapt to, cope within and/or influence the predominately neurotypical social landscape, according to a new study.

The research investigated camouflaging behaviours used by autistic adults in everyday social interactions using a research method that was new to the field of autism called Interpersonal Process Recall methodology.

Participants took part in a short, quasi-everyday social interaction with a stranger and then completed a semi-structured interview while viewing the audio–visual recording of their earlier social interaction. During the interview, participants actively identified and described camouflaging attempts.

The study, published in Autism filmed 17 autistic adults taking part in a conversation with a stranger. With the help of the video of this conversation, they then showed and described their camouflaging behaviours to a researcher. A total of 38 different camouflaging behaviours were identified.

New insights into how autistic people adapt to neurotypical social world

The detailed and specific information provided by autistic adults about camouflaging behaviours generated important new insights into the ways in which autistic people adapt to, cope within and influence the neurotypical (non-autistic) social world.

These were clustered into four main categories and seven subcategories: (1) masking, (2) innocuous engagement (subcategories: passive encouragement, centring social partner, deferential engagement and reducing social risk), (3) modelling neurotypical communication and (4) active self-presentation (subcategories: reciprocal social behaviours, risky social behaviours, and comfortable and familiar social behaviours).

The novel use of Interpersonal Process Recall methodology addressed limitations in existing camouflaging research and facilitated the identification of previously unreported camouflaging behaviours.