The Impact of Autism Masking on Mental Health

Masking refers to the coping mechanism often used by people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). However, each person engages in masking differently. Autism masking has a tremendous impact on people's well-being and behaviour and should not go unnoticed. As communities, we must create inclusive and understanding environments that reduce the need for masking and offer more emotional support while embracing the unique ways people's minds work.

The Definition of Autism Masking

Autism masking is a coping strategy where autistic people hide their autistic traits, characteristics and behaviours. This mechanism, also known as social camouflaging, helps autistic people fit in or appear ‘neurotypical’ in various social situations.

Masking behaviour can happen consciously or unconsciously by suppressing autistic traits and behaviours or even adapting and learning different communication styles to feel socially accepted. Autistic people use masking to navigate social interactions and reduce the chances of being misunderstood by their peers. However, autism masking can be exhausting and contribute to developing anxiety and stress. It can also lead to a loss of self and identity in autistic adults and children.

Situations Where Individuals May Engage in Masking

Autism masking can occur in multiple situations, but most often in social settings where an autistic person may feel pressure to conform to social norms and hide their traits. Some of the most common situations include:

  • School or professional settings
  • Social and outdoor gatherings with others
  • Job interviews
  • Going on dates and developing romantic relationships
  • Daily interactions

Some other situations where autistic people may rely on masking as a coping mechanism are interconnected with the most common scenarios like socialising, job training, workshops, meetings, and other group activities. However, it is essential to remember that these situations can vary based on people’s experiences and preferences and not every autistic person will engage in masking in the same way.

The Role of Masking in Managing Social Situations

Camouflaging autistic traits often happens in managing social situations. On the one hand, it can provide help and possibly comfort to navigate social interactions and reduce the possibility of getting an adverse reaction or feeling socially excluded. It is also a way to cope with sensory challenges and communication difficulties in various social settings.

Masking can have a negative impact on people’s mental health. The pressure to mask autistic traits can lead to developing feelings of anxiety or isolation. It can also contribute to developing other mental health challenges, such as autistic burnout and even depression. Over the years, however, we have witnessed a growing recognition of the impact autism masking has on people’s mental health.

The need for autism acceptance emphasises the necessity of accepting autistic people for who they are and embracing their autistic traits. This approach can help create an inclusive and understanding society that respects the diversity of autistic individuals.

The Impact on Mental Health

Masking in autistic people has a significant impact on mental health. It can cause increased stress and feelings of intense pressure when in various social environments. For some autistic people, it could also instil feelings of inauthenticity and losing the sense of one’s true self. Research shows that about 4 in 10 autistic children develop some form of anxiety, while 7 in 10 autistic children develop other mental health ‘issues’, demonstrating the need for understanding and support.

Continual masking, especially for autistic women, over time, can have long-term consequences for mental health. Untreated stress, anxiety, and burnout can increase the risk of developing more serious mental health concerns and can impact overall quality of life. Providing comprehensive support for mental health symptoms and encouraging people to embrace their authentic selves is essential for maintaining well-being.

Impact on Self-Esteem

The impact of autistic masking on self-esteem can be profound and multifaceted. It can cause a variety of challenges, such as:

1.     Inauthenticity: Constantly masking to fit in can make autistic people feel disconnected from their true selves.

2.     Fear of Rejection: The fear of rejection or negative judgment can be a constant challenge for autistic people who engage in masking.

3. Internalised Ableism: Society often places value on conformity to neurotypical standards, leading autistic people to internalise false, negative beliefs about themselves and their differences.

4.     Perfectionism: Masking often involves striving for perfection in social interactions, as autistic people feel pressure to meet unrealistic standards of behaviour.

5.     Limited Authentic Connections: Masking can hinder genuine connections with others, as autistic adults and children may fear that revealing their true selves will lead to rejection.

Addressing the impact of masking on self-esteem requires a multifaceted approach that includes fostering self-acceptance, challenging internalised ableism, building social support networks, and providing access to therapy and other mental health resources. People with autism spectrum conditions need to recognise that their worth is not defined by their ability to mask or conform to societal expectations but rather by their inherent value and unique differences.

Emotional Exhaustion

Masking can cause emotional exhaustion as it consists of continuously adjusting behaviour to “fit in.” This very demanding process can lead to always trying to analyse people’s social cues and interpret others’ behaviours.

Masking also leads to suppressing natural behaviours. Autistic people may develop a state of hypervigilance where they feel always on high alert and constantly try to fit in. In time, all of these actions lead to emotional exhaustion, and autistic people may feel overwhelmed and unable to engage in social interactions.

Coping Strategies

There are a range of coping mechanisms that can help autistic people navigate challenging social situations and improve their mental health. Some of them include:

  • Connecting with an autistic community that understands and promotes people’s unique autistic traits
  • Developing self-awareness and recognising the beginning of the masking process
  • Meditation, mindfulness and other relaxation techniques that can help reduce stress
  • Establishing clear boundaries
  • Seeking professional support

Every person is different and needs to find the right coping strategies that will best support their mental health and overall well-being.

Promoting Inclusivity and Acceptance

As well as promoting acceptance and inclusivity, we all need to educate ourselves and understand the challenges autistic people face. Unique Community Services developed and nurtured an organisational culture based on education, awareness and embracing the differences in how people communicate and interact in social situations. This way, we can ensure empathetic and effective care.

How We Embrace Differences

Our team of experts at Unique Community Services adopt a person-centred approach that respects people’s unique needs and preferences. We develop a collaborative process with autistic people and their support networks to create a comprehensive care plan that considers all aspects of people’s challenges and strengths.

Our in-house therapy team includes Positive Behaviour Support (PBS) practitioners, occupational therapists and speech and language therapists. They are mindful of all sensory activities and are determined always to create a calming environment tailored to each person’s needs.

We use PROACT SCIPr and PBS as our leading approaches to care and support, avoiding restrictive practices. We also implement policies that foster inclusivity and acceptance and stay current on the latest research and developments.

Masking and Neurodiversity

Promoting neurodiversity involves embracing people’s unique differences. We need to appreciate the unique characteristics that neurodivergent people have and help them celebrate their strengths. This also means understanding the different reasons autistic people mask and providing comprehensive support.

It’s important to provide tailored support and person-centred strategies. Developing and utilising sensory accommodations and assistive technologies can significantly enhance people’s well-being within their communities. Focusing on fostering skill development and creating opportunities for autistic people is crucial and helps have their voices heard.

Importance of Addressing Mental Health Within The Autism Community

It is crucial to address mental health problems, especially within the autism community. Many autistic people experience, or have previously experienced, mental health challenges partly due to masking. In fact, many autistic people experience challenges daily and may find social skills and managing emotions difficult.

It is crucial to address mental health as a pillar that helps develop coping strategies, build stronger connections and promote well-being.

Autism Support with Unique Community Services

Unique Community Services offers person-centred support for autistic people in the comfort of their own homes. We embrace a compassionate approach that focuses on respecting people’s unique needs and strengths. By working with families, caregivers and autistic people, we develop a comprehensive care plan that addresses the unique challenges people face and effectively improves quality of life.

Our highly trained support workers and in-house therapy team are committed to providing tailored and humanised care.

To learn more about how we can support you, please get in touch with us today or visit one of our offices in Bristol, Manchester or Leeds.

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A seasoned SEO Content Writer with more than five years of writing experience in the healthcare industry. She derives value from creating high-quality content that spreads awareness about mental health and people’s well-being.

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