Camouflaging strategy among women with autism

Camouflage is a theorized strategy commonly used by individuals with high functioning autism to cope in social situations.  Researchers hypothesized that girls who have autism and are high functioning are camouflaged in the presentation of their symptomology when compared to the male phenotype for autism (more classic and overt), and other females who are neurotypical (Dean, Harwood, & Kasari, 2017; Lai et al., 2011; Kopp, & Gillberg, 2011; Gould, 2017).

Females are often socially motivated to be included in their peer group, they have better social emotional reciprocity but also mask their symptoms through active or passive means.  Active camouflage results when females with ASD use strategies to mask, copy and bypass social communication difficulties to appear ‘normal’ in an attempt to maintain a friendship, and passive camouflage results when the behaviours of the larger social group are mimicked (Young, Oreve, & Speranza, 2018; Hull et al., 2017; Gould, 2017; and Lai et al., 2011).

Moreover, Hull et al. (2017) conclude that camouflage can be consciously used to hide one’s differences, but this can also mask one’s social incompetence and behaviours associated with autism, making social interaction difficulties less conspicuous. Furthermore, Hull et al. (2017) found that females with ASD have two stimuli for active and passive camouflage; to assimilate or connect with their peers. The female can internally drive these desires with ASD, but such means can also be in response to how females should behave and in motivation to avoid discrimination and negative interactions with others due to their autistic traits.

Another complicating factor to camouflage is that the neuro-typical female peer group can bolster another female with autism ASD because they present as being socially stronger, given their inclusion. However, within early friendships, females with autism can interact and empathize within these social circles but this ability changes over time as the demands for social savviness and understanding of nuances increase. A female with autism can end up on the group’s periphery because of their inability to relate and connect to changing social demands.

Additionally, females who camouflage their autism are also less likely to be referred for assessment because they assimilate enough to appear ‘neuro-typical.’ However, when examining the possible symptomology from when the individual was a child, parents often report more social relationship difficulties as opposed to the observations made at school, by the child’s teachers (Hull et al., 2017).

Camouflaging increases with an individual’s desire to fit in and

make social connections with others (Tierney, Burns, & Kilbey, 2016). Whereby some individuals might stifle their need to stim, others might increase their eye-contact (creating increased levels of discomfort), or they may script situations to prevent standing out within their peer group; females with HFA want friends and will go to great lengths to make friends and maintain these social relationships (Tierney, Burns, & Kilbey, 2016).

These behaviors can either mask or compensate for one’s differences, which over the short-term, can produce anxiety and exhaustion but, over the long term, have detrimental effects that impact mental-health self-identity and without a diagnosis, proper support (Hull et al. 2017).