Exploring autistic adults' psychosocial experiences affecting beginnings, continuity and change in camouflaging over time: A qualitative study in Singapore

Beatrice Rui Yi Loo, Truman Jing Yang Teo, Melanie Jiamin Liang, Dawn-Joy Leong, Diana Weiting Tan, Sici Zhuang, Laura Hull, Lucy A Livingston, Will Mandy, Francesca Happé, Iliana Magiati

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)

Abstract

Over their lifetimes, many autistic people learn to camouflage (hide or mask) their autism-related differences to forge relationships, find work and live independently in largely non-autistic societies. Autistic adults have described camouflaging as a 'lifetime of conditioning . . . to act normal' involving 'years of effort', suggesting that camouflaging develops over an autistic person's lifetime and may start early on, in childhood or adolescence. Yet, we know very little about why and how autistic people start to camouflage, or why and how their camouflaging behaviours continue or change over time. We interviewed 11 Singaporean autistic adults (9 male, 2 female, 22-45 years old) who shared their camouflaging experiences. We found that autistic adults' earliest motivations to camouflage were largely related to the desire to fit in and connect with others. They also camouflaged to avoid difficult social experiences (such as being teased or bullied). Autistic adults shared that their camouflaging behaviours became more complex and that, for some, camouflaging became a part of their self-identity over time. Our findings suggest that society should not pathologise autistic differences, but instead accept and include autistic people, to reduce the pressure on autistic people to hide who they truly are.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)627-643
Number of pages17
JournalAutism: the international journal of research and practice
Volume28
Issue number3
Early online date10 Jun 2023
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2024

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