• Autistic adults' experiences of camouflaging and its perceived impact on mental health

      Bradley, Louise; Shaw, Rebecca; Baron-Cohen, Simon; Cassidy, Sarah (Mary Ann Liebert Inc., 2021-06-03)
      Many autistic adults report that they need to camouflage their autistic behaviors to help them "fit in"and cope in social situations with non-autistic people. This is because society is not as aware and accepting of autistic people as it needs to be. We also know that for most autistic adults camouflaging is exhausting and damaging for their mental health. This study is important, because researchers have not studied camouflaging enough to know what it is like for autistic adults to camouflage in their everyday lives and to understand the impact that camouflaging has on their mental health. We wanted to ask autistic adults about their positive and negative experiences of camouflaging. This is important because it will help professionals better understand why autistic adults camouflage, and better support the mental health needs of autistic adults. This increased understanding may also help society become more aware and accepting of autism. If this happens, autistic adults will not need to camouflage as much. Not having to camouflage as much could also help prevent and reduce mental health problems in autistic adults. We asked autistic adults with a clinical diagnosis and those who self-identify as autistic to complete an online survey. The survey asked questions about mental health, self-injury, suicidal thoughts, and suicidal behaviors. One part of the survey asked questions about camouflaging. If research participants said they camouflaged or masked their autistic characteristics to cope with social situations, they would then be asked about when and why they camouflage, and about the positive and negative consequences of camouflaging. We found that autistic people confirmed that they camouflage because of a lack of awareness and acceptance of autism in society. We also found that both autistic males and females camouflage. Although some autistic adults said that "everyone"camouflages, they thought that autistic people spent much more time than non-autistic people camouflaging in their everyday lives. Spending lots of time camouflaging was what was most damaging for autistic adults' mental health. Although most autistic adults thought that camouflaging was damaging to their mental health, some thought that it helped them too. Our results suggest that it is important to reduce pressure to camouflage. This could help prevent high rates of mental health problems in autistic people. Our results suggest that this can be achieved if wider society becomes more aware and accepting of autistic people. Our results also suggest that reducing pressure to camouflage could benefit everyone in society.