Ever put on a happy face when talking to the check-out person at the grocery store? Or pretend to like your new friend’s favorite band by nodding along while you waited for the song to end? You were doing a bit of masking. Masking is the act of camouflaging the way one acts in a social setting. Everyone does it to a degree. No real harm is done in these situations; you are able to return to being your authentic self after these brief interactions.

For autistic individuals, however, masking can become a way of life. The desire to fit in and the pressure to be seen as neurotypical can drive autistic children to hide who they really are all the time. They may see it as social survival. Your autistic child may not feel valued unless they can suppress those behaviors that are seen as being typically—and negatively—associated with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Consistently living in fear of being othered in school, in the community, or even at home has both short- and long-term risks to your child’s self-identity and self-esteem.

Parents and caregivers can become more aware of masking in autistic children.  They can help children trust that their authentic self is not only acceptable but valued and has a place in society. When space is made for a child to live without pressure to behave in a neurotypical fashion, the child may avoid some of the pitfalls experienced by those who continuously mask into adulthood.

What does masking look like?

Masking may look different depending on where your child is and how comfortable they are in their surroundings. Some instances of masking include:

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