• The SOF Team

The mental and emotional effects of masking as a girl with autism

It is essential to consider how masking affects girls emotionally and mentally to promote better overall health.



Image source: Woodburn pediatric


Autism in girls - the signs of masking

One in 68 children in the US is diagnosed with autism; for every three boys diagnosed with autism, one girl is diagnosed. Recent studies suggest many causes of this, one being that the current diagnostic methods used in the US overlook the differences in symptoms between girls and boys, but the most prominent is that girls and women are more successful at masking or camouflaging their autism symptoms to fit in.

While boys and men can also mask, it is much more common in women and girls with neurological disorders. Most young girls and women with autism will conceal or camouflage their symptoms. Mainly, they do this to form and maintain social relationships, “blend in” at school and other social settings, and even in the workplace in their later life. Masking can look like forcing eye contact, memory techniques to remember casual topics of conversation, suppressing autistic commonalities, and mirroring or trying to engage in what society considers “normal” behaviors.



Image Source: Bristol Autism Support

However, an article from Psychology Today claims that autistic camouflaging has been shown to be linked to a heightened risk of depression, anxiety, and suicidality in women with autism. While masking is not all bad, it is crucial to consider how masking and camouflaging affect young girls emotionally and mentally and the toll this can take long-term.

Constantly trying to put on a facade and make oneself more like other people seem a natural response for women with autism, but it comes at a cost. Research shows a link between camouflaging in autistic girls and various mental health issues starting at a young age. According to Healthline, these issues can include:

  • Low self-esteem: Young girls with autism may feel overwhelmed and saddened by not being able to be authentic when around their peers, causing low self-esteem.

  • Stress and anxiety: It can be anxiety-inducing for girls with autism to participate in social events while pretending to be a different version of themselves. Studies have shown that stress and anxiety levels are higher in girls with autism who mask.

  • Depression: Young girls with autism are more likely to show symptoms of depression because they feel like an outcast and cannot relate easily to others.

  • Exhaustion: It can be exhausting to consistently put on a facade to fit in, so many girls with autism who camouflage are often exhausted by the school day or social events.

  • Delayed identification of autism: Girls who have autism are often diagnosed later in life because of their successful masking. It is essential to pay attention to any signs that could indicate a need for evaluation.

  • Loss of identity: By always masking their true identity, young girls with autism struggle to figure out who they are and how they can be themselves around others.

  • Risk of autistic burnout: Autistic burnout can occur when a person feels overwhelmed and run down from having to camouflage their autism tendencies.

  • Increased risk of suicidal thoughts: A study from PubMed shows that masking or camouflaging can cause suicidality among young adult women over time.


Image Source: Aruma

Resources that can help

Parents of girls with autism or young girls with autism can seek help in many different ways. For instance, there are support groups and communities online that anyone can participate in, such as social media. Facebook has several support groups for women with autism, such as Aspire – The Female Autism Network, Autism Spectrum Women’s Group, and Autistic Women’s Association. There are also websites with communities always looking to help, such as Autistic Women and Nonbinary Network (formerly Autism Women’s Network) or International Aspergirl Society.

In addition to online resources, several methods of relief can be practiced at home with the help of parents. By building a personalized, consistent treatment plan at home, young girls with autism will be able to thrive. This looks like:

  • Creating a predictable schedule.

  • Incorporating your child’s interests into the schedule.

  • Teach tasks or life skills as a series of simple steps.

  • Actively engage your child’s attention in structured activities.

  • Provide consistent reinforcement of behavior.

  • Provide time for respite.

  • Allow and encourage your child to be themselves at home.

  • Make them feel safe and comfortable taking off their mask.

Sources:

  1. https://www.autismempowerment.org/resource-center/resources-for-females-on-the-autism-spectrum/support-organizations/

  2. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/autism-it-s-different-in-girls/

  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5925757/

  4. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/women-autism-spectrum-disorder/202104/masking-and-mental-health-in-women-autism#:~:text=Autistic%20camouflaging%20has%20been%20shown,ones%20can%20bolster%20mental%20health

  5. https://www.healthline.com/health/autism/autism-masking#effects

  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6483965/

  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5040731/

  8. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10803-017-3166-5

  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7313636/

  10. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31820344/

  11. https://www.facebook.com/pages/category/Community/Aspire-The-Female-Autism-Network-1025042794203353/

  12. https://www.facebook.com/autisticwomensassociation/

  13. https://www.facebook.com/autisticwomensassociation/

  14. https://awnnetwork.org/

  15. http://help4aspergers.com/international-aspergirl-society/

  16. https://www.helpguide.org/articles/autism-learning-disabilities/helping-your-child-with-autism-thrive.htm

  17. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/self-esteem