Scientists studied the results of an online survey designed to measure gender differences in camouflaging in autistic and non-autistic adults. They found autistic women exhibited more camouflaging behaviours than men, which supported previous observations from self-reported studies. No gender camouflaging differences were reported in non-autistic groups.
“The effect wasn’t as big as we were expecting,” said Dr Will Mandy, from University College London, one of the authors of the study, published in the journal Autism and presented at the British Science Festival at the University of Warwick.
“What I’m finding interesting is how ubiquitous camouflaging is. When you start to dig into why, it’s quite alarming; for starters it’s experienced as an obligation rather than a choice. It’s very often about self-preservation, avoiding bullying or attack.”
it does does not seem that the psychological impact is discussed. Yet to read the full paper yet.
Before I was diagnosed, masking certainly seemed like an obligation - I had internalised it to the point that I would get angry and punish myself if I caught myself "being weird" even when I was alone. I didn't really know what to make of the "secret me" who sometimes appeared when my defences were down, but I felt that he had to be suppressed in case it was a sign that I was losing my mind. Even at times when I was receiving treatment for severe depression, I would never have dared let slip that my brain would shut-down sometimes, or that I didn't really believe that my melt-downs were just angry tantrums. The counsellors that I saw were sympathetic enough, but their advice just seemed to confirm that the mask was the "real me" that I should be aiming for, and that I needed to learn to exert even more self-control than I was already to attain a healthy mind.
I wasn't diagnosed until my 40's, and there was no autism awareness when I was a child, so looking back, I don't really see how this could have been avoidable. In effect, I received intensive, aversive behavioural therapy for decades - provided not by misguided therapists, but by every single person I encountered who guided me to the "correct" way to behave, and punished me, however mildly or indirectly, when I couldn't hack it. Masking became a necessity because I had never known of any other option - and it became my life's work, my only ambition in life, to perfect the mask in the hope that it would lead to a "normal" life.
I still do mask a lot, but it has been a blessed relief to learn that I'm allowed to decide for myself whether and when I do or don't do it. And having a damned good stim is now a joy that I cherish very deeply. But now I find myself in middle age asking myself who the hell I am - the "autistic me" seems like a blank slate, having been hidden away and never allowed to interact with the world - "retarded" in the proper sense of that word. I don't quite seem to know how one goes about deciding what one wants for the future, because such questions always seemed pointless before - perfecting my powers of invisibility is the only vocation in life that I've ever dedicated myself to, and I have a very persistent case of doormat-itus.
But I'm slowly learning to lift the mask a little when I'm around other people - I am at least fortunate to have a few long-standing friends (a couple of whom turned out to also be autistic) who don't freak out at the bizarre "new" behaviours that I'm starting to show. And the most wonderful chance experience of meeting another autistic person, one who's traits make masking an impossibility for him, enjoying the affection and respect shown to him as a "regular" at his local pub, has inspired me greatly - I think I "outed" myself to quite a few people that night, as I just couldn't help joining him for a stim with a huge grin on my face!
It's really good to read that you now feel able to be yourself in some situations. When I think back to when I was at school, at work, or even with family, I was constantly on edge. I don't mask when I'm with my husband and daughter and it has really improved my mental health. It's so scary though to try to act 'my normal' with other people.