“Masking Is Life”: Experiences of Masking in Autistic and Nonautistic Adults

Miller, Danielle, Rees, Jon and Pearson, Amy (2021) “Masking Is Life”: Experiences of Masking in Autistic and Nonautistic Adults. Autism in Adulthood. ISSN 2573-959X

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Background: Autistic masking is an emerging research area, and so far, research has suggested that masking has a negative effect on autistic people. Masking relates to general social practices (such as identity management) and is often driven by stigma avoidance. Many nonautistic people also experience stigma that might drive them to suppress aspects of their identity. In this study, we investigate similarities and differences in experiences of masking in autistic and nonautistic people.

Methods: We conducted an online survey about experiences and views of masking in autistic people (n = 144), neurodivergent people without an autism diagnosis (n = 49), and neurotypical people (n = 45) recruited via social media. We used thematic analysis to analyze responses to open-ended items about masking, using an inductive approach, at a semantic level, with a critical realist paradigm.

Results: Thematic analysis revealed that some aspects of masking are shared across autistic and nonautistic people, such as utilizing mimicry of others as a social strategy or feeling exhausted from masking. All groups reported that masking made them feel disconnected from their true sense of identity and had a negative effect on them. Other aspects of masking seemed more specific to autistic people, such as sensory suppression, and masking leading to suicidal ideation.

Conclusions: Our findings suggest that many aspects of masking are experienced across different neurotypes and are likely related to outside perceptions of difference and stigma. It is likely that what we call “autistic masking” is similar to other forms of stigma management previously theorized. Some aspects of masking do seem more specific to the autistic neurotype (e.g., suppression of stimming) and should be explored further to provide support for autistic people recovering from the negative impact of masking.

Item Type: Article
Divisions: Faculty of Health Sciences and Wellbeing > School of Psychology
SWORD Depositor: Publication Router
Depositing User: Publication Router
Date Deposited: 22 Jun 2021 08:37
Last Modified: 22 Jun 2021 14:25
URI: http://sure.sunderland.ac.uk/id/eprint/13537
ORCID for Jon Rees: ORCID iD orcid.org/0000-0002-3295-244X
ORCID for Amy Pearson: ORCID iD orcid.org/0000-0001-7089-6103

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